Revised again this morning:
a few words smoothed
2019 April 26
Russian president Vladimir Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vladivostok.
Putin: "We welcome DPRK leadership's steps to establish a dialogue with the US and to normalize relations between South and North Koreas.
We're coming from a stand that there's no alternative to peaceful solution of nuclear and other problems of the region."
Dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington has faltered since the summit in Hanoi.
Putin: "I will speak [Friday] in Beijing with the leadership of the People's Republic of China, but we will also openly and frankly
discuss today's meeting with the American leadership. There are no secrets here."
Theresa May's government is one of the least successful in UK history.
On Tuesday, the government's national security council, which is chaired by the prime minister and contains senior ministers as well as
security officials, agreed that the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei could build parts of the UK's 5G network. The Huawei decision would normally be
tightly guarded and unpublicised, but it was reported in detail the following morning.
When ministers or officials on the NSC unilaterally leak details of its decisions to the press, something has gone very rotten in
government. Many ministers seem to have returned to Westminster this week blinded by ambition to succeed May as prime minister. Yet a leadership
challenge could easily trigger a general election in which the Conservatives are massacred.
Tories are showing all the dignity and judgment of a headless chicken.
My review of a Springer book by Delia Perlov and Alex Vilenkin
2019 April 25
Joe Biden Announces 2020 Run for President
The New York Times
AR Good news: He can defeat Trump.
The US Military
The traditional model of US military power is being disrupted. On future battlefields, swarms of intelligent machines will deliver violence at a greater
volume and higher velocity than ever before.
US Navy aircraft carriers are priced at $13 billion each and their fighter jets at $90 million each. We are burning through billions of
dollars by deploying such resources against technologically primitive enemies in the Mideast and Africa. And we are burning through trillions in order
to build a relatively small number of such platforms that are increasingly vulnerable to detection and destruction by adversaries like China and Russia.
Emerging technologies like hypersonic propulsion, space-based weapons, and quantum sensors makes this a recipe for rapid military defeat.
The answer is to radically increase the numbers of military platforms, lower their costs, and enhance their autonomy. Instead of straining to reach a
target of 355 ships, the US Navy should be aiming for many more, including drones.
Between them, the Pentagon, Congress, and a serious president could change the way America prepares for war.
Read it now (PDF, 4200 words, 6 pages)
2019 April 24
The UK should revoke its notice to leave the EU
Most of the votes cast in England in the 2016 referendum on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union were in favour of leaving.
The result was widely seen as having been driven by a mixture of anger and pride.
Many voters in the north of England were angry that their regional interests and concerns were apparently being ignored by the
governing class in Westminster, while many voters in the south of England were proud of their British heritage and felt that political union
with continental European states was intolerably humiliating.
Despite majorities against leaving the EU in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the result in England and Wales was to precipitate
the political crisis that has rocked the UK ever since.
2019 April 23
St George's Day
To prevent an overlap with Easter, the Church of England says St George's Day does not fall on the usual date of April 23 this year but April 29.
Catholics will transfer the day to April 30.
AR St George had a Turkish father and a Syrian mother, was a Roman citizen, died in Palestine, never visited England, and didn't kill
America: The Prize
For Democrats, leaving Donald Trump in office is the best chance for fundamental realignment of American politics in more than a generation. Trump is
three years into destroying what we know as the Republican party. Another two years just might finish it off.
Trump has abandoned most of the core principles that have defined Republicans for a century. He should be impeached because he is unfit
for the presidency. He represents a clear and present danger to US national security. But impeaching him is likely to be bad politics.
Nothing will unite the Republican party more than trying to remove the president anywhere but at the ballot box. Allowing Trump to lead
the Republican party into the next election is the better bet to deliver progressivism in America.
Britain: The Opportunity
British governance is in a crisis. Politicians must reimagine how to run the UK. The crisis has created the conditions to reshape its institutions.
Entrepreneurs love nothing better than to highlight opportunities amid chaos. Nation states have a powerful monopoly position within a
territory and important responsibilities, all compromised and challenged by machine learning. National governments may decide shaping the values of
a society is too important to be left to multinational companies.
UK voters have seen the ineffectiveness of their political institutions. They may welcome a few radical ideas:
♠ Reshape environmental policy by using tax incentives
♥ Digitize the NHS and secure the transfer of medical data
♣ Prepare students for the digital age by teaching tech skills
♦ Limit concentrations of economic power and redistribute gains
All this can be done within the EU.
2019 Earth Day
People are slowly becoming more aware, but emissions continue to rise.
This is not just young people being sick of politicians. It's an existential crisis. It's something that will affect the future of our
civilization. It's a crisis and we must take action accordingly.
I support Extinction Rebellion. What they are doing is good. Civil disobedience is important to show this is an emergency. We need to do
everything we can to put pressure on the people in power.
We won't be satisfied until they meet our demands and act.
Joseph E. Stiglitz
The American economy is failing its citizens. The United States has the highest level of inequality among the advanced countries and one of the lowest
levels of opportunity. Americans forgot that the true source of the wealth of a nation is the creativity and innovation of its people.
Politics has played a big role in the increase in corporate rent-seeking and the accompanying inequality. Greater economic inequality is
leading, in our money-driven political system, to more political inequality, with weaker rules and deregulation causing still more economic inequality.
The prescription begins by recognizing the vital role that the state plays in making markets serve society. We need regulations that ensure
strong competition without abusive exploitation. We must be as resolute in combating market power as the corporate sector is in increasing it.
Progressive capitalism is based on a new social contract between voters and elected officials, between workers and corporations, between
rich and poor. The neoliberal fantasy that unfettered markets will deliver prosperity to everyone should be put to rest.
We are witnessing a meltdown in British politics with no historical precedent. Both main parties are losing their traditional supporters fast.
Not much more than half of 2017 Conservative voters intend to vote Conservative at the next general election. The Conservatives could lose
much of their constituency infrastructure. People may turn to extremes to vent their anger and disgust at the government.
The EU high command fears that a group of far-right parties from France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and other countries will become
the pivotal force in the next European Parliament. New British MEPs could join them.
The number of Conservative defectors would be almost halved if Boris Johnson became prime minister. Johnson is despised by many Tory MPs,
but this could change if they panic after the local and European elections.
More European leaders may then decide the EU will be better off without the UK. A No Deal exit looms.
Earth Shaped Humans
We are living in the Anthropocene era. Our appetite for natural resources and industrial products is eradicating species, warming the oceans, and disrupting
the global climate as never before. It is the most severe jolt since 55 megayears ago, when within 100 kiloyears the temperature of the planet jerked up
by between 5 K and 8 K, held for a while, and then fell again.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Methane on the sea floor trapped within ice was safely sequestered until the ice melted. Volcanic
eruptions put enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise the temperature, releasing methane and raising the temperature further.
The warming led to a burst of evolutionary diversification, creating ungulates, which are critical to human societies around the world,
and early humans, who rapidly dispersed from East Africa across Asia, Europe, and North America.
Our large brains emerged in response to complex and rapidly changing surroundings. East Africa dried out, driven largely by tectonic plate
movement, which made mountains that blocked the westward movement of moisture-laden clouds. The changing availability of water favored the evolution of
more versatile human behavior.
Our ancestors walked out of Africa and into Asia when Earth was in the depths of its most recent ice age. Global temperatures were lower,
the climate was drier, and the great ice sheets locked up water, lowering global sea levels.
Early humans in Asia walked into Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea, and Australia. A land corridor linking Siberia and Alaska let them trek
into the Americas. Then the land bridge was flooded, and two human populations grew independently. Once the ice age ended, climatic stability since
then has let civilizations emerge.
The staple of most of our diets became cereal crops from grass species that had proliferated around the world as Earth cooled and dried.
The animals we domesticated were mostly the ungulates that dominated the grassy ecologies.
Planetary forces dictated where the first cities formed. Mesopotamia is the result of continental drift that caused the Arabian plate to
slam into the southern margin of the Eurasian plate, forming the Zagros mountains, whose weight created a basin that filled with sediment.
The Harappan civilization emerged along the Indus valley at around the same time. The Indus flows along a basin beside the Himalayas,
which formed when India crashed into Eurasia. Active plate tectonics provided the fertile basins for our first civilizations.
Anthropocene climate change is dangerous. Many regions will see increasing droughts or the loss of fertile land as deserts form, while
others will experience more intense bursts of rainfall and flooding. Melting polar ice caps will raise sea levels and flood coastal areas and cities,
while melting mountain glaciers will reduce water supplies. Tropical diseases will spread, heatwaves will kill people, and mass migration will
The life of Jesus Christ has been given the big-budget docudrama treatment by the US satellite channel History. Expert contributor
Simon Sebag Montefiore: "The number of people who are religious in all the Abrahamic faiths is increasing all the time .. Jesus's
life story is absolutely gripping and fascinating .. and therefore the perfect subject for a documentary."
Notre Dame, Paris
AR If this were the
Palace of Westminster
we might have lost
a few MPs.
What if the army had
deposed Hitler in 1936?
2019 Easter Sunday
Trump Is Corrupt
Vladimir Putin wanted Donald Trump to become president of the United States and undertook a campaign to make sure it happened. Trump might be the only
person left in America who disagrees with this fact. Trump, his family, and his campaign may not have set up a criminal conspiracy to cooperate with
Russia, but they were enthusiastic about Russian interference in the election.
Trump made comprehensive and far-reaching attempts to obstruct justice, including urging officials to pressure the FBI, trying to fire
the special counsel, and lying to the public. He lied seemingly every time Russia came up and regularly instructed aides to lie to the public.
Nearly everything he called "fake news" turned out to be true.
Trump has no concern about whether his actions are illegal or unethical. He brought to the Oval Office his boundless willingness to lie
and have others lie for him, his complete disregard for any norm of integrity or propriety, and his belief that the entire US government exists to
serve his personal ends. This president is profoundly corrupt.
2019 April 20
The Danger Facing American Democracy
The New York Times
The Mueller report is categorical: "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."
Russia's interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mueller was appointed to investigate. The report details serious and
dangerous actions against the United States that Trump has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned, or comprehended.
The report documents Russian efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign,
invitations for Trump to meet Putin, and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains.
The president refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.
2019 Good Friday
The Mueller Indictment
The New York Times
Robert Mueller and his team found substantial evidence that President Trump broke federal law on numerous occasions by attempting to shut down or
interfere with the Russia investigation. The report revealed a White House riddled with dysfunction and distrust, one in which Trump and his
aides lie with contempt for one another and the public.
Mueller: "We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes ..
fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought .. If we had confidence after a thorough
investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state .. The conclusion that Congress
may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks
and balances and the principle that no person is above the law."
When notified that a special counsel had been appointed to scrutinize his behavior, Trump reportedly slumped in his chair and said:
"Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked."
There's still a long way to go before it can be said that justice has been done.
UK: Sick Man of Europe
The UK is undergoing six crises at the same time:
† Economic: Productivity and real incomes per head are stagnant.
† National identity is being linked to questions about loyalty.
† Brexit has weaponised identity, leading to accusations of treason.
† Political divisions based on identity are destroying both main parties.
† A referendum is being used to resolve a constitutional question.
† Leadership: With its present leaders, the mess can only worsen.
The UK will remain sick for a while.
2019 April 18
The Mueller Report: Live Analysis
The New York Times
After a sweeping 22-month investigation, Robert S. Mueller III found there was insufficient evidence to establish that Donald Trump or his associates
engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to disrupt the 2016 election.
Investigators identified numerous contacts between campaign advisers and Russians affiliated with the government during the campaign
and after the election. But the special counsel did not establish that the contacts added up to an illegal conspiracy.
The report detailed Trump's efforts to thwart the investigation, and the Mueller team debated whether the episodes amounted to criminal
obstruction of justice. The report said that, by virtue of his position as president, he had the authority to carry out several of the acts in
question, including firing James B. Comey as FBI director.
Read the Mueller Report: Full Document
2019 April 17
Our house is falling apart. Our leaders need to start acting accordingly because at the moment they are not.
If our house was falling apart our leaders wouldn't go on like we do today. If our house was falling apart, you wouldn't hold three
emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and the environment.
The extinction rate is up to six times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day.
Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of the rainforest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, acidification of our oceans —
these are all disastrous trends.
It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce determination to act now,
to lay the foundations. It will take cathedral thinking. Wake up. Make changes.
Machines Like Me
Adam was not a sex toy, but he was capable of sex. This highly advanced model of artificial human was advertised as a companion, an intellectual
sparring partner, friend and factotum who could wash dishes, make beds, and think. In every moment of his existence, everything he heard and
saw he recorded and could retrieve.
What I wanted to pursue was the idea of a creature who was morally superior to ourselves. My ambition was to create a set of
circumstances in which Adam would make decisions that we would see as severe and antihuman, but in many senses were both logical and ethically
pure. Novelists throughout time have pursued the field of play within a love triangle, in which moral certainties and doubts can run against
The situation in which I imagine an artificial creature would give us great trouble would be one in which someone we love takes
an act of revenge, and that revenge is righteous. It seems inevitable and has a distinct and decent moral cause. The question is how to punish
that person when you oppose the notion of revenge with the rule of law. Adam takes the view that the rule of law must always be followed,
and that any act of revenge is the beginning of social breakdown.
Our own lack of self-knowledge will make it very difficult to encode a being that is good in the sense that we would find good.
It might make ruthless logical decisions that we would find inhuman even though we in a sense might agree with them. I think we will run
into enormous but fascinating problems.
2019 April 16
European Parliament Address
The Article 50 extension agreed last week has a few advantages:
1 A long extension ensures that all options remain on the table, such as ratification of the
current withdrawal agreement, or extra time to rethink Brexit, if that were the wish of the British people.
2 It allows the EU to focus on other priorities that are at least as important, such as trade with
the US or the new EU leadership. Since the very beginning of the Brexit process, the UK has been a constructive and responsible EU member
state. We have no reason to believe this will change.
3 The flexible extension delays the possibly of a no-deal Brexit by six months. Thanks to this,
millions of people and businesses have gained at least some certainty in this unstable time.
German Foreign Policy
We are living through a new age of great power competition. If we want to stand our ground, we have to confront this as Europeans. If some EU member
states allow themselves to be bought out, then Europe will become a mere object of world politics. That cannot be our goal.
In Germany we have outlined a path that takes us to 2024, when we will spend 1.5% of GDP on defense. That is an increase of 40%. Both
from a financial and a political point of view, that is for the German public an ambitious project. I know there is irritation on this issue, but
we will deliver.
Our policy on Saudi Arabia is correct. You cannot sit in the UN Security Council and call on the conflict parties involved in Yemen to
stop the war, and then go out and act as if nothing happened. Changes in American foreign policy mean we now have to take on more responsibility
The Iran nuclear agreement has been pronounced dead so many times it should have broken down a long time ago. But Iran has an interest
in keeping the agreement alive. It gives Iran access to Europe. I think this deal has a future.
Britain cannot drag out Brexit for a decade. Another extension could send the signal that the UK plans to stay in the EU after all.
You cannot say you want to leave and then hold a European Parliament election.
Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen presides over an institution that symbolizes a system of representation that cannot cope with globalization, migration or technology.
The right talk about vassal states and sovereignty. The sovereign UK has a monarchy that legitimates hereditary privilege,
the Lords, and owning half of Scotland. Even sensible people fall for the circus of honors, ermine and empire, while young men get their
legs blown off to serve Queen and country.
Dismantle the monarchy. When the Queen dies, let the whole monstrous shebang go with her. Only then can the UK be a sovereign
2019 April 15
A climate rebellion that organisers say could last several days has blocked central London. Thousands of people occupied major junctions and
demanded urgent action over the escalating ecological crisis. The protests are part of a global campaign organised by Extinction Rebellion,
with demonstrations planned in 80 cities across 33 countries in the coming days.
New Internationalist contributing editor Jamie Kelsey Fry: "This is not a political movement; this is a movement of humanity.
We are all backgrounds, all ages, all races, bound together in one wish, one dream, which is that we will have a good, decent, loving future,
for generations to come."
2019 April 14
★ We declare nonviolent rebellion against the US government for its criminal inaction on the ecological crisis.
★ We demand that the US government tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency. It must reverse all policies
not in alignment with that position and must work alongside the media to communicate the urgency for change, including what individuals, communities,
and businesses need to do.
★ The US government must enact legally binding policies to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and take further action to
remove the excess of atmospheric greenhouse gases. It must cooperate internationally so that the global economy runs on no more than half a planet's
worth of resources per year.
★ We do not trust the US government to make the bold, swift, and long-term changes necessary to achieve these changes and we do
not intend to hand further power to our politicians. Instead we demand a Citizens' Assembly to oversee the changes, as we rise from the wreckage,
creating a democracy fit for purpose.
★ We demand a just transition that prioritizes the most vulnerable people and indigenous sovereignty —
AR Sorry, stop there. Identitarian thoughtcrime.
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by 12 governments in Washington on April 4, 1949. NATO played a key role in deterring the Soviet Union
from attempting to extend its power any further west than the River Elbe. During the Cold War, Moscow sought to expand its influence worldwide, but it
left western Europe alone.
In those days, a small group of western academics did what they could to expose communism and to support political and religious dissidents
in the Soviet sphere of influence. A member of that group was Roger Scruton, who in 1998 was awarded the
Czech Republic's Medal of Merit by its then president Vaclav Havel.
Last year, Sir Roger Scruton was appointed chairman of a UK government commission on buildings. Almost immediately, the attacks from the
left began. Last week, the government took the bait and sacked him.
A direct descendant of the illiberal, egalitarian ideology that once suppressed free speech in eastern Europe is now shutting down debate
in the West. An attack on one of us must be considered an attack on all of us. Let us sign a new Nonconformist Academic Treaty.
AR Nonconformists are the new conservatives.
Bomb the Rubble
Before I die, I want to see UK politics move on from bickering about Europe. But the fetishizing of compromise proposed by archbishops, royalty, scared
business leaders, and most of the really nice people in British public life bids fair to prolong these agonies indefinitely. Compromise can be the
most corrosive outcome of all.
Remainers should vote for a confirmatory referendum in hopes of revoking. Leavers should do so in hopes of staying in the game. Then
let the electorate settle it.
AR Kill the issue. Burn out all traces.
2019 April 13
Is Superintelligence Impossible?
David Chalmers and Daniel Dennett
An Edge conversation hosted by John Brockman in Brooklyn on April 10, 2019
Today marks the centenary of a British general gunning down unarmed Indians who had gathered peacefully in a park in Amritsar. Mahatma Gandhi had helped
recruit soldiers during WW1 to preserve the empire, but the Amritsar atrocity prompted him to see British rule as satanic.
Indians contributed massively to the WW1 victory. They were confident the British would reward them with dominion status. But the
war cabinet had secretly concluded it would take Indians 500 years to learn to rule themselves.
When the British introduced draconian powers of search and arrest without warrant, and detention without trial, tensions escalated.
British troops killed about 15 Indians, and Indians killed 5 British civilians in retaliation. On 13 April 1919, General Reginald Dyer marched in.
Dyer led a small party of soldiers into the heart of Amritsar. There 15,000 to 20,000 had gathered, including women and children. Without
warning, Dyer ordered his soldiers to fire. They fired for 10 minutes and stopped only when they ran out of ammunition. By then 337 men,
41 women, and a baby had been killed, with another 1,500 injured.
The British in India saw Dyer as the saviour of the Raj. In the House of Commons, the secretary of state for India, Edwin Montagu, was
portrayed as anti-Dyer, and the House debated a motion to reduce Montagu's salary. Montagu was Jewish, and that became the central issue.
The British political class talk of the Commonwealth as a family. But the British empire was at best a real-life Downton Abbey, with
the black and brown people downstairs and the whites upstairs.
AR See the Richard Attenborough movie
2019 April 12
Black Hole Image: The Crucial Algorithm
The Event Horizon Telescope relies on interferometry to combine the signals from 8 telescopes into a graphic image. The data collected was physically
shipped to a central location, the MIT Haystack Observatory, on 500 kg of hard drives. Dr Katie Bouman led the development of new algorithms to
combine the data, filter out noise, and synchronize the signals from the telescopes.
Black Hole Image: The Crucial Person
Dr Katie Bouman, 29, led work on the computer program that assembled the black hole image. She started 3 years ago as a grad student at MIT
and led the project, assisted by a team from the MIT CSAI Lab, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the MIT Haystack Observatory.
Bouman, now an assistant professor at Caltech, says the team deserves equal credit.
2019 April 11
European Council president Donald Tusk: "Tonight the European Council decided to grant the United Kingdom a flexible extension of the Article 50 period
until October 31 .. During this time, the [UK] can still ratify the withdrawal agreement, in which case the extension will be terminated. It can
also reconsider the whole Brexit strategy .. Until the end of this period, the UK will also have the possibility to revoke Article 50 and cancel
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "In June when we meet again .. the withdrawal agreement should .. not be called into
question because that would jeopardise the backstop agreement .. There will probably be a European election in the UK .. we must respect European laws.
I do rather regret the fact that we only talk about Brexit .. in October we'll see what happens."
AR Relief — time to hold an election or a referendum and then revoke A50.
Seeing Black Hole M87
Black holes were conceived of as a thought experiment. Karl Schwarzschild discovered this possible solution to Einstein's general theory of relativity and
inferred that spacetime effectively spills toward the crushed center. Even light gets dragged down the hole, casting a shadow on the sky bounded by the
When a dying star is heavy enough, gravity causes it the collapse catastrophically. The event horizon is left behind as an archaeological
record while the stellar material continues to fall inward to an unknown fate. In our own Milky Way galaxy there could be billions of black holes.
Supermassive black holes, millions or even billions of times the mass of the sun, anchor the centers of nearly all galaxies. Maybe they
formed from dead stars that merged and escalated in size, or maybe they directly collapsed out of more primordial material in a younger universe.
There are as many supermassive black holes as there are galaxies.
The Event Horizon Telescope is a testament to bold ideas. Exploiting large radio telescopes around the globe, EHT became a composite
telescope the size of the Earth. As the planet spins and orbits, the target black hole rises into the field of view of component telescopes around
the planet. To render a precise image, the telescopes need to operate as one, which involves sensitive time corrections so that one global eye looks
toward the black hole.
Messier 87 is an enormous elliptical galaxy 55 million light-years away that is known to harbor a supermassive black hole between
3.5 billion and 7.2 billion times the mass of the Sun. It is illuminated by debris caught in a hot disk orbiting very near the event horizon.
The disk appears to surround the black hole, allowing for a bright contrast against which its shadow is visible.
AR The disk radiation wraps around the black hole due to gravitational bending, so the result resembles what we call an
Black Hole M87
A team processing results from a worldwide network of powerful radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has
released this first-ever graphic image of a black hole. The image depicts the supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy
Messier 87. The hole is 55 million light years away and has a mass 6.6 billion times that of the Sun.
To prepare the historic image, which represents radio signals with red light, the EHT took several petabytes of data collected in
2017 and 2018 and processed it in Boston, USA, and Bonn, Germany. The EHT has such a high resolution that a person in London
with eyes this sharp could read a newspaper as far away as New York.
AR The image conforms to the expectations we have from general relativity. The event horizon on the bright side is moving
toward us, as illustrated in Kip Thorne's simulation for the movie Interstellar.
"It's better than anything
2019 April 10
At lunch at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall last week I met up with an old friend, a distinguished engineer and researcher on rocket technology
who has worked for NASA. Over coffee, he leant across the table: "Can you explain Brexit to me? I just can't get my head around it."
2019 April 9
Brexit Extra Time
UK prime minister Theresa May visits Angela Merkel in Berlin and Emmanuel Macron in Paris today, before the EU summit tomorrow. EU leaders will ask the UK
not to block or disrupt EU decisions during an extension period that may be up to March 31, 2020, to end early if the withdrawal agreement is approved
A senior EU official: "If there is a wild Brexiteer as a new Tory PM, they would be able to do nothing until after March 31, 2020, unless
they subscribe to the withdrawal agreement. We will simply not hold talks. If a new British leader refuses these terms, it will simply be no deal on
the date, with plenty of time for us to prepare."
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier: "If the UK were to leave the EU without a deal, we would not discuss anything with the UK until there
was an agreement for Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as for citizens' rights and the financial settlement."
EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act
A new act of parliament delays article 50 and forces the government to set out its timetable for the length of the Brexit delay in order to prevent the UK
exiting the EU with no deal.
The bill devised by Yvette Cooper and Oliver Letwin passed its final stages in the House of Lords on Monday night and was approved in the
Commons by 392 votes to 85.
The EU Withdrawal (No 5) Act received royal assent just after 11 pm Monday. The government then tabled a motion setting out its plan to
seek an extension until 30 June.
EverCrypt is a new set of digital cryptography tools. It is invulnerable to all the main types of hacking attacks. Its developers specified exactly what
their code is supposed to do and then proved it does that and only that, ruling out the possibility that the code could fail under unusual circumstances,
by means of formal verification.
Work on EverCrypt began in 2016 as a part of Project Everest, an initiative led by Microsoft Research. The team developed a programming
platform that could express all the different attributes they wanted in a verified cryptographic library by creating a new programming language that
put the math and the software on equal footing.
EverCrypt is proven to be free of coding errors, mathematical errors, and data leaks.
AR Formal verification uses the logic I researched some 40 years ago.
Poole Bay, April 8
I shall speak for Remain
"Let us be patient."
Nonlocality and contextuality
Revoke Article 50 petition
exceeds 6 million
Hamming cube, N = 3
2019 April 8
The rise of China is the great economic and political fact of our lifetime. China launched its Belt and Road initiative OBOR in 2013 to expand Chinese
influence in Eurasia. So far, 12 EU members have signed OBOR memoranda of understanding.
China is threatening to dominate the entire Eurasian landmass. German companies see China as the key to the future of their export-led
economy. Yet the German industrial organization BDI warns that Chinese practices pose an existential threat.
EU leaders have taken the first steps to constrain Chinese economic expansion in Europe. Britain is merely a discordant noise offstage
as it bungles Brexit.
AR The UK lacks politicians with the bandwidth and legroom to tackle such global affairs. The EU offers the better base
for the job.
2019 April 7
If we do nothing to stop carbon emissions, the planet will warm by over 3 K. Over a hundred major cities will flood and the world economy will lose
a cumulative $550 trillion. Wars will break out over access to fresh water, millions will die due to heat waves, floods, wildfires and pollution,
and drought will fuel political extremism — all this within our lifetimes or those of our children.
Joshua S. Goldstein, Staffan A. Qvist, Steven Pinker
To solve climate change, we must eliminate fossil fuels by 2050 — or we're cooked.
Germany went for renewables, but if the world went that way it would take more than a century to decarbonize. France and Sweden
decarbonized their grids decades ago and enjoy much cheaper electricity than Germany. They did this with nuclear power.
The only reasons the United States and other countries don't expand their nuclear capacity are economics and fear.
New nuclear power plants are hugely expensive to build in the United States today. But they don't need to be. The keys to building
affordable nuclear plants are standardization and a sensible regulatory framework. This depends on overcoming an irrational dread among the public.
Nuclear power is safe. In all its 60 years, only three accidents have raised public alarm: Three Mile Island in 1979, which killed no one;
Fukushima in 2011, which killed no one; and Chernobyl in 1986, the result of extraordinary Soviet bungling, which killed 31 in the accident and perhaps
several thousand from cancer, around the same number killed by coal emissions every day.
Nuclear power plants cannot explode like nuclear bombs, and they have not contributed to weapons proliferation, thanks to robust
Nuclear waste is compact and can be stored safely. After we have solved climate change, we can either burn the waste as fuel in
new reactors or bury it. This is a far easier environmental challenge than coal waste.
Nuclear can become the new green. We can solve climate change and leave our grandchildren a bright future. We can end the idea
that we're cooked.
Quantum Theory and Reality
The quantum story of how the world works at the atomic level offends intuition. Albert Einstein championed realism. Niels Bohr
said no such realist picture is possible. Anti-realism won the day.
Einstein began in 1905 by embracing the idea of photons. Louis de Broglie said if light can be both a wave and a particle, the same
duality can be true of other particles. Erwin Schrödinger invented the math. Bohr announced the birth not just of a
new physics but of a new philosophy.
Lee Smolin says realistic science is under attack: "So maybe it's all up to a brilliant student
somewhere, impossibly arrogant, as the young Einstein was, but blindingly talented enough to absorb the essentials of all we have done, before
putting them to one side and confidently starting over."
AR Waves are premonitions of particles, before they settle into 4D locations within a cosmic flux that cools into
the 4D forms of both us and them. Thus I reconcile realism and anti-realism. The math is beyond me.
2019 April 6
Theresa May has surrendered any right to be seen as a prime minister acting in good faith. From the moment she pulled the vote on her withdrawal agreement,
she has consistently placed her own interests above those of the UK. Her request for a short extension makes a mockery of her negotiations with Labour.
She cannot let go of the idea that she may yet triumph.
EU Stress Test
ERG extremist Jacob Rees-Mogg says if the UK stayed in the EU it could veto any increase in the budget, obstruct the putative EU army, block new
integrationist schemes, and elect Tommy Robinson to the European parliament.
Since the UK triggered Article 50, the EU27 has shown extraordinary solidarity, whereas the UK has a split parliament, split government,
split opposition, and split cabinet. When the EU27 threw its collective weight behind Ireland, it ended centuries of abusive British relations with
The past three years have discredited British politics and advertised the benefits of European cooperation.
A model of synchronization in a population of oscillators shows why coupled oscillators spontaneously synchronize. Computer simulations show mixed
"chimera" states of synchrony and asynchrony.
The brain looks like a complicated chimera that sustains both synchronous and asynchronous firing of neurons. Perhaps consciousness
arises in a complicated and delicate balance of synchrony and asynchrony.
Networks can break up into clusters of synchronized oscillators. Indirectly linked oscillators can form a cluster, while the
oscillators between them form different clusters or drift. They can even form chaotic states.
Synchronization is a manifestation of symmetry and symmetry breaking, where network symmetries reflect the ways oscillators can be
swapped without changing the network.
2019 April 5
Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk asking for an Article 50 extension up to 30 June 2019, or earlier if a deal
is reached, and promising continued preparations to hold European parliamentary elections.
Tusk would like to offer Theresa May a one-year "flextension" to keep it simple, so long as the EU27 agree unanimously at the
summit on 10 April. Tusk is offering flexibility to avoid any suggestion that the EU is seeking to trap the UK.
2019 April 4
Roof Leaks: Commons Adjourned
During a rainy-day debate on taxation, Justin Madders MP struggled to be heard as a water leak in the roof of the Commons chamber grew louder.
The sitting had to be suspended at the conclusion of his speech. The House of Commons adjourned for the day.
AR The Palace of Westminster is in urgent need of a renovation that will cost billions. It seems a fitting metaphor
for Brexit Britain.
Brexit: Commons Passes Cooper−Letwin
MPs have voted through an emergency bill to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension to Article 50 and avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The bill, spearheaded by Labour former shadow minister Yvette Cooper and Conservative former minister Sir Oliver Letwin, passed
half an hour before midnight, after MPs had defeated a number of obstructive amendments.
MPs had initially voted by 312 to 311 to let the bill proceed. Cooper and Letwin then had six hours to pass its second reading,
committee stage, and third reading through the House of Commons. It finally passed its third reading by 313 to 312 and must now pass the
House of Lords.
The government opposed the bill.
AR Seeking an extension is only half the job. The EU will only agree to an extension if the UK participates in the
European parliamentary elections on May 23.
Goodbye EU, Goodbye UK
The Brexit story was supposed to be about the UK leaving the EU. It has turned into a runaway national crisis. Brexit is really about identity and
A strain of Conservatism has never come to terms with the loss of empire. But Brexit is an English rather than a British enterprise.
It belongs overwhelmingly to provincial England.
Theresa May's government insists that powers returned from Brussels will be hoarded at Westminster. The prime minister wants to
reduce immigration. Scotland sees no reason to shackle itself to the rule of English nationalists.
Nor can Northern Ireland's place in the UK be taken for granted. The DUP is adamant that a deal with the EU27 does not differentiate
between NI and the rest of the UK. But nothing has done so much as Brexit to reopen the question of Irish unification.
Britishness is an invented identity. It was promoted during the 19th century to cast empire as a joint project of the four nations
of the UK. More recently, as the empire came home, it has provided a welcoming mantle for immigrants from former imperial outposts.
Allegiance to England is predominantly for white nationalists. The threads of Britishness unravel. Identity politics elbows aside
AR If the UK leaves the EU, the smaller, older, poorer union will soon decay.
2019 April 3
The English Nationalist Revolution Is Over
The illusions of the May administration have crumbled. After years of civil service expertise wasted, economic growth lost, and legislative time squandered,
Theresa May has turned for help to Jeremy Corbyn. She has bottled out of a fourth meaningful vote, ditched the threat of no deal, and thrown herself on
the mercy of parliament.
Labour's proposed Brexit deal would sign Britain up to the customs union and enter a state of "dynamic alignment" with the rules of the
single market. If May can accept this, thus splitting the Tory party for a generation, Corbyn should consider the offer. But May will lose her
authority when her party sees the scale of her defeat.
Any deal done must be put to a second referendum, with remain as the other option. Despite getting 6 million signatures on a petition,
the simple revocation of Article 50 would have zero democratic legitimacy. To cancel the disastrous effects of the 2016 referendum, we need another one.
May's bombshell means the Little English nationalist revolution is over. This is a victory for the democratic process. Let's find out now
what there is a majority for and test it at the ballot box against the most obvious solution: Remain in the EU.
says breakthrough negotiation is the art of letting the other person have your way. First identify your own interests and your best alternative to a
negotiated agreement, or BATNA.
The EU interest is for the UK to remain a member and accept the four freedoms. The EU has a fairly strong BATNA and the UK has a weak one.
But many negotiated deals are better for the EU than its fallback position.
Brussels has an interest in holding out for a deal. Once a long extension begins, it can relax. Ury: "Even if you have a decisive
power advantage, you should think twice before lunging for victory."
Nonlocal games involve quantum entanglement. Two players are each asked a simple question. They win the game if their answers are coordinated in
a certain way. They cannot communicate with each other, but if they share pairs of entangled quantum particles, they can enhance the correlations
between their answers.
For some nonlocal games, the more pairs of entangled quantum particles the players share, the better they can play. Optimal play
needs infinitely many pairs of entangled particles or properties. So it is impossible to compute the maximum-win probability for such games.
The two players in a nonlocal game are kept from coordinating their answers in two ways:
1 Physically isolate the players from each other. We analyze this case using the tensor product model and
use it to compute a floor for the maximum-win probability of nonlocal games: the algorithm pushes it above some limit.
2 Require that the order in which the two players measure their entangled particles cannot affect their
answers. We analyze this case with the commuting operator model and use it to compute a ceiling on the maximum-win probability: the algorithm
pushes it below some limit.
The longer the algorithms run, the more they appear to converge. To establish that they converge to infinity, we would need to
prove the two models equivalent. Then the ceiling and the floor converge to a single value. Otherwise, pushing the limits might push the
ceiling below the floor.
Calculating more exact maximum-win probabilities for nonlocal games is exponentially hard, an NP problem.
2019 April 2
The Guardian, 1714 UTC
After a 7-hour cabinet meeting, Theresa May calls for a further extension of Article 50 "that would be as short as possible" and would end once a
deal is struck.
She says any plan both she and Jeremy Corbyn agreed upon would be put to MPs for approval with a view to it being taken to the
European Council meeting on 10 April.
If she and Corbyn cannot agree a unified approach, a series of options for the future relationship would be put to the Commons in a
series of votes. The government would abide by the decision of the House if Labour did so too.
May says she wants the process to be finished by 22 May so that the UK does not have to take part in the European Parliament elections.
She says the debate cannot be allowed to drag on and any deal must include her withdrawal agreement.
AR I predict that May's call for a "short extension" will fail and no deal will be agreed by 12 April. To save the UK,
MPs need to force revocation of Article 50 before 12 April.
2019 April 1
BBC News, 2108 UTC
Tonight MPs cast indicative votes to defeat four Brexit motions:
✗ C: Customs union (possibly without freedom of movement)
— votes for 273, votes against 276
✗ D: Common market 2.0 (EEA/EFTA option, including a customs union, rather like Norway)
— votes for 261, votes against 282
✗ E: Confirmatory public vote (a second referendum to be held on any deal agreed in order to
confirm or reject it)
— votes for 280, votes against 292
✗ G: Parliamentary supremacy (if no agreement is reached by April 10, the PM is required to
request the EU for an extension, and if none is granted to repeal Article 50 forthwith)
— votes for 191, votes against 292
Conservative MPs were given a free vote on the motions, but the cabinet was told to abstain. Labour MPs were urged
to back motion D.
Change Mixes Order and Randomness
Tim Austin has proved the weak Pinsker conjecture and showed that dynamical systems blend chance and determinism.
A dynamical system starts with some input, applies some rules, and produces some output. You can repeat this process: Take the new state,
apply the same rules, and get the next state.
Some dynamical systems can be seen as combining two simpler systems. The two systems act independently but together form the more complex
system. The two naturally simplest systems are deterministic ones and random ones.
The weak Pinsker conjecture is that for a certain large class of dynamical systems, each system is a mix of a random system and an almost
completely deterministic system.
Austin analyzed dynamical systems running in discrete space and time, with a dynamical system outputting a sequence of 1s and 0s. He
analyzed these bit strings using Hamming cubes, in which each vertex is assigned N bits. Moving from one vertex to another flips one bit, and
the distance between any two vertices equals the number of flips between the bit strings.
Considering how frequently a dynamical system produces a given bit string, Austin found the strings cluster on the Hamming cube in a
way that blends chance and determinism.
AR A basic result for all coding geeks.
What the f**k is going on?
AR A comic rant that gets
to the rot at the core
of Austerity UK
Sir Oliver Letwin
MP for West Dorset
Saturday speech on Brexit
2019 March 31
Britain and Japan have much in common. Both are densely populated island nations off the vast Eurasian landmass. Both were once mighty empires.
Both are still quite rich. Both are constitutional monarchies. Yet while Britain today is in a state of acute political crisis, Japan seems
a model of political stability.
You might think Japan has much bigger problems than Britain. The ratio of people over 65 to those of working age is 46%, the
highest in the world. The gross public debt is now 238% of GDP, again highest in the world. Britain leads Japan in terms of innovation,
economic and political freedom, ease of doing business, and even happiness.
Britain has embraced immigration. Japan has resisted it. There are now almost 1.3 million foreign workers in Japan, just 2%
of the population. The figure for the UK is 13%. Perhaps conservatism is incompatible with immigration on this scale and the Brexit
breakdown is a symptom.
2019 March 30
Article 13 Explained
The EU has issued a major new directive on copyright laws. Its Article 13 makes websites responsible for ensuring that content uploaded to their
platforms does not breach copyright. Owners of websites where people can post content will be responsible for ensuring no unlicensed material
To comply with Article 13, big platforms will need to ensure that any copyrighted material on their sites is licensed. The rules
are intended to end music and video piracy online, ensure artists receive a fair payment for their work, and force tech giants to pay for
content they aggregate.
Certain services are exempted, including non-profit sites, software development platforms, cloud storage services, and websites
with less than €10 million annual turnover. Website owners are not required to install content monitoring software to detect copyright
EU member states must now pass legislation to implement the directive.
AR I trust this blog is not in new jeopardy.
2019 March 29
Meaningful Vote 2.5
BBC News, 1442 UTC
The House of Commons has rejected Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement for a third time, this time by 286 votes for the deal and
An unnamed UK cabinet minister, when asked why Theresa May is holding another Brexit vote, said: "Fuck knows, I'm past caring."
2019 March 28
Brexit Deal Vote Tomorrow
BBC News, 1748 UTC
MPs will be asked to vote again on Brexit on Friday but only on part of the deal negotiated with the EU. They will vote on the withdrawal agreement
but not the political declaration. This complies with House speaker John Bercow's ruling that the same deal cannot be introduced a third time.
Labour will not back the deal. Labour MPs called the new vote "extraordinary and unprecedented" and "trickery of the highest
order" while shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer said: "We would be leaving the EU, but with absolutely no idea where we are heading. That
cannot be acceptable."
The DUP say they will not back the deal and several ERG members refuse to back it. Boris Johnson said it was "dead" but
he would reluctantly support it. The withdrawal agreement must be passed by close of play tomorrow to meet the EU requirement for a delay of
B-day to 22 May.
A Way Forward
The issue is whether parliament can come to a majority in favour of a way forward on Monday. MPs will be voting on the basis of seeing what
happened last night. And either the prime minister will have got her deal through on Friday, in which case all this is unnecessary, or people
will see that isn't going to happen by 12 April. Quite a lot of Tories who didn't vote for any of the options may then come round and say: OK,
we'll choose among these options.
It's very difficult to translate how people vote the first time, when they don't know how other people are voting, to how
they will vote when they can see how other people are voting, under new circumstances. Many of us think leaving without a deal on 12 April is
not a good solution. But is parliament on Monday willing to come to a majority view about a way forward?
DUP Thwarts May Gambit
Theresa May has gambled her premiership to win support for her Brexit deal. She hoped to make a third attempt to pass her Brexit deal on Friday.
But the Northern Irish DUP says it will continue to vote against it. Steve Baker and other ERG Brexiteers say they will also vote against it.
On May's offer to resign, Baker said: "I'm consumed with a ferocious rage after that pantomime."
No No No No No No No No
In a series of indicative votes in the Commons, all eight proposed alternatives to the government's Brexit deal were defeated.
The two closest:
✗ A plan to negotiate a "permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union with the EU" in any
Brexit deal, proposed by Conservative veteran Ken Clarke and others, was lost by 264 votes to 272.
✗ A plan to require a second referendum to confirm any Brexit deal, proposed by Labour former
foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, was lost by 268 votes to 295.
Oliver Letwin, who pushed to let MPs take control of the order paper for the votes, said the results were "disappointing"
but hopes for more clarity after new votes on Monday.
AR Only the option that dare not speak its name remains: Revoke Article 50.
2019 March 27
May Vows To Quit
BBC News, 1943 UTC
Theresa May has promised Tory MPs she will resign as prime minister if they back her Brexit deal.
A smiling Boris Johnson says he will now back the deal.
AR Excited commentators are saying this is the biggest thing in British politics since the fall of
Neville Chamberlain and the rise of Winston Churchill in May 1940.
We should be open to a long extension if the UK wishes to rethink its Brexit strategy. We cannot betray the 6 million people who signed the petition
to revoke article 50, the 1 million people who marched for a people's vote, or the increasing majority of people who want to remain in the EU.
They may feel they are not sufficiently represented by the UK parliament, but they must feel that they are represented by the European Parliament.
Because they are Europeans.
AR I am by UK law a subject of the Crown and by EU law a citizen of the European Union. Losing my preferred citizenship
but retaining my embarrassing subjection is utterly dismaying to me.
The Brexit Delusion
Brexiteers say the UK is going to take back control. This was the biggest delusion of all.
Control is different from sovereignty. The UK was already sovereign. Control is about power.
The EU is more powerful than the UK. For the EU, the UK market is important. For the UK, the EU market is vital.
The world contains three economic superpowers: the United States, the EU (without the UK), and China. These generated about 60% of
global output in 2018. The UK contribution was 3%.
The UK is a trading nation and has no future as anything else. Markets all over the world cannot compensate for reduced access to
the market of 450 million people on its doorstep.
The United States will impose hard terms in any bilateral bargaining with the UK. Both China and India will insist on UK acceptance
of their terms. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand together contain fewer people than the UK.
Outside the EU, the UK will not have greater control over its global environment. Trade agreements are increasingly about regulatory
standards. The UK will often have to align itself with the standards of others.
The UK will not take back control by leaving the EU.
2019 March 26
Brexit: Taking Back Control
Theresa May on Monday night risked losing control of Brexit, after MPs voted to seize control of the House of Commons timetable and test
support for alternatives to her withdrawal deal. She had ordered her ministers to oppose the Letwin amendment.
Former Conservative minister Sir Oliver Letwin hoped his amendment would give parliament a chance to find a cross-party way forward on
Brexit. Several senior ministers say there is a growing possibility that a general election might be needed to end the stalemate.
May warned of a protracted "slow Brexit" if an extension to the Article 50 process were agreed by the EU and the UK took part in
European elections. She remains at loggerheads with the hardline ERG Brexiteers.
Letwin: "This is just the beginning of a very difficult process as we struggle to find consensus across the House."
AR Oliver Letwin
is a former Cambridge philosopher. His prizewinning PhD thesis was on emotions and led to his 1987 book
Ethics, Emotion and the Unity of the Self.
Grand Wizards of Brexit
A while back, we all had a good laugh at Jacob Rees-Mogg's European Research Group naming their elite team of lawyers the Star Chamber.
The Star Chamber was a court of inquisitorial and criminal jurisdiction in England that sat without a jury, used arbitrary
methods, and imposed severe punishments. It was abolished in 1641.
May met leading ERG members at Chequers on Sunday for crisis talks on Brexit. The hard Brexit day-trippers failed to reach an
agreement with her.
BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg: "The 'Grand Wizards' (the new name for the Chequers day-trippers apparently) also had another
meeting this morning .."
Grand Wizard was a title used for the leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
AR Kuenssberg later said it was just a nickname, but the Grand Wizards of ERG in their Star Chamber are no joke.
An Island Alone — No!
Brexit is the biggest peacetime crisis we have faced. A no-deal Brexit could provoke a national emergency. The most sensible step would be to put the
issue on hold, complete the negotiations, and then hold a referendum.
I dismiss with contempt the image of us as an island wrapped in a union jack, glorying in the famous phrase that captured, for so many,
Winston Churchill's spirit of defiance in 1940: "Very well, alone." I was there. I saw our army evacuated, our cities bombed, our convoys sunk.
Churchill did everything in his power to end this isolation. Alone was never Churchill's hope or wish: it was his fear.
Now, I look back over the years: 70 years of peace in Europe, 50 years of partnership between the UK and the rest of the EU. The
fascists have gone from Spain and Portugal, the colonels from Greece. Now we have 28 democracies working together on a basis of shared sovereignty,
achieving far in excess of what any one of us could individually. Never forget that it was the memories of Europe's war that laid the foundations
of the European Union today.
Margaret Thatcher would have been appalled to see Britain excluded from the top table. Theresa May dashed across the Channel last week,
only to be excluded from a meeting of our former partners, and presented with a take-it-or-leave-it offer. That is what the Brexiteers have done
to our country: a national humiliation, made in Britain, made by Brexit.
Britain cannot run from today's global realities of a shrinking world menaced by terrorism, international tax avoidance, giant
corporations, superpowers, mass migration, the rise of the far right, climate change, and a host of other threats. Against them, our duty is to
build on our achievements in the areas of peace and security that the EU has given us, to maintain our trade access where it matters and to keep
our place at the centre of the world stage.
We have a responsibility to hand over and pass on to a younger generation a country richer, more powerful, and safer than that which
we ourselves inherited. And doing so in partnership with Europe is our destiny.
AR A great speech — Heseltine's finest hour.
2019 March 25
Brexit: Parliament Seizes Control
BBC News, 2248 UTC
By 327 votes to 300, MPs pass a motion as amended by Sir Oliver Letwin allowing the Commons to take control of the parliamentary agenda to hold indicative
votes on Brexit options. The amendment was passed by 329 votes to 302. Three government ministers resigned to cast
Europe is under attack. For the United States, China, and Russia, Europe is a political and economic target.
Russia has been at work for some time. Moscow's efforts to undermine democratic processes and the cohesion of the EU are now part of
the political landscape. In parallel, Russia is increasing its economic footprint in EU countries that are more welcoming than others.
Chinese president Xi Jinping wants to connect Europe to China economically. China has bought the port of Athens and some other gates
to southern Europe. The Belt and Road Initiative has involved setting up an organization called 16+1 (16 European former Communist states, 11 of
them EU members, plus China) to help them build infrastructure.
The United States has its own fight with China. In a normal world, Washington would have enrolled its European allies in its fight.
But Trump America treats Europe either as a competitor or as a vassal.
Europe is a soft target, hampered by its complex politics. The Brexit chaos will leave a mark. Europeans must decide whether they
wish to let their continent be cut up by competing big powers, or whether they want to regain their strength and control their own destiny.
French president Emmanuel Macron: "Europe is not just an economic market. It is a project."
Last Saturday, Remainers protested in London and gilets jaunes again came out in Paris and other French cities. The previous weekend
saw mass demonstrations by Catalan separatists in Madrid.
Britain's crisis is part of a wider pattern. Its vote to leave the EU in 2016 was swayed by the German refugee crisis of 2015.
Radical Leavers have taken to wearing yellow vests, as in France. The independence referendum in Catalonia was inspired by the referendum in
Scotland in 2014.
Europe is changing. Nationalist-populist governments are in power in Italy, Hungary, and Poland, and form part of the
coalition government in Austria. The far right has also performed strongly in elections in France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and is making
gains in Spain.
European leaders have to ask whether to cut Britain loose to discredit radical forces across the continent. But they risk
deepening the crisis. Their decisions will affect the whole of Europe.
Nic Robertson, CNN
The British state is not faring well. The UK political establishment appears to be crumbling, as a pioneer of modern democracy flounders in archaic
and arcane process. Attitudes are stiffening in Europe, as the EU resolves to protect European democracy from British contagion.
AR Economic inequality, democratic dysfunction, mass immigration — go figure.
2019 March 24
Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy
The New York Times
The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found that neither President Trump nor any of his aides conspired or coordinated with the Russian
government's 2016 election interference, according to a summary made public by the attorney general.
The special counsel's team lacked sufficient evidence to establish that President Trump illegally obstructed justice but stopped
short of exonerating Trump.
Russian president Vladimir Putin sits atop a ramshackle system driven more by the calculations of competing bureaucracies and interest groups than
by Kremlin diktats.
Ekaterina Schulmann: "This is not a personally run empire but a huge and difficult-to-manage bureaucratic machine with its own
internal rules and principles. It happens time and again that the president says something, and then nothing or the opposite happens."
Russia today resembles not so much the Soviet state ruled by Stalin as the dilapidated autocracy of Russia in the early 19th century.
Czar Nicholas I presided over corrupt bureaucracies that led Russia into a disastrous war in Crimea and let the economy stagnate.
Schulmann: "It is a great illusion that you just need to reach the leader and make him listen and everything will change. This is not
how it happens."
In his annual state of the nation address last month, Putin stressed the need to let business people work freely. He admitted he had
made the same demand in a previous address: "Unfortunately, the situation has not improved much."
Brexit: May Meets Rebels
UK prime minister Theresa May met with a group of senior Conservative rebels including Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker,
and Iain Duncan Smith at her Chequers country retreat today.
Chancellor Philip Hammond: "I'm realistic that we may not be able to get a majority for the prime minister's deal, and if that
is the case then parliament will have to decide not just what it's against but what it is for."
Article 50 Petition: 5M+
Brexit petition to revoke Article 50 exceeds 5 million signatures.
The crowd on Piccadilly
People's Vote Brexit rally draws 1 million marchers (2:32)
People's Vote march to Westminster — sped up (1:30)
AR I was there too, alongside a million people aiming to send a message to
HM government. Whether it succeeds, only the next few weeks will tell.
2019 March 23
The New York Times
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has delivered his report to the US Justice Department.
2019 March 22
EU leaders give Theresa May 3 weeks to come up with an alternative Brexit plan if MPs reject her deal again. May now has an unconditional extension
until April 12. If her deal is passed, she has until May 22 to pass legislation implementing Brexit.
Confirmation that a longer extension may still be on the table makes May's defeat more likely. Brexiteers will say no deal remains
the default outcome. But defeat of her deal will not end this drama: Those holding out for a softer Brexit or no Brexit at all will hold out.
Ministers opposed to no-deal thought they had a commitment from May to seek a long extension if a deal had not been agreed, and then
to hold indicative votes to find an alternative way forward. They now see she is ready to take the UK out of the EU with no deal.
MPs can seize control of events to vote on alternative strategies. That probably means resigning the whip. To prevent no-deal,
parliament may need to find a new prime minister.
AR My former ministry had plans: Operation Yellowhammer was to start Monday, with thousands of troops on standby and
reservists called up. Hard Brexit would trigger Operation Redfold, run from a crisis room in the nuclear bunker deep beneath Whitehall.
UK Political Breakdown
The idea that Brexit has broken the UK gives too much credit to the Brexiteers. The two main trends in postwar electoral politics have been the
decline in turnout and waning support for the two major parties. Brexit merely shows the UK system is bust.
Since the 2008 crash, most Western countries have seen electoral fracture, the demise of mainstream parties, a rise in nativism
and bigotry, increased public protest, and general political dysfunction. The virus that drove the UK mad is on the loose.
AR Time to re-engineer Western democracy.
2019 March 21
"No deal for sure"
CNN, 1430 UTC
French President Emmanuel Macron: "In case of no vote — or no — I mean directly — it will guide everybody to a no deal
for sure. This is it."
Brits Are EU Citizens Too
Timothy Garton Ash
More than 16 million British citizens voted for Britain to remain in the EU in 2016. European citizenship is at stake.
The UK contains three nations: England, Wales and Scotland, together with a part of a fourth, Ireland. The EU27 member states
have been impressive in their solidarity with Ireland. But Scotland voted by a majority of 62% to 38% to remain in the EU.
Europe will lack the power to defend our shared interests and values in the world if Brexit goes ahead. Not harmonious
cooperation but dissonance will almost certainly be the consequence.
Brexit On Hold
Oliver Wright, Henry Zeffman
UK prime minister Theresa May wrote to European Council president Donald Tusk asking for B-day to be delayed until June 30.
Tusk responded by making a short extension conditional on MPs approving her deal next week. A short extension can only last
until May 23, the date of European Parliament elections, as the UK seats will then be redistributed among other member states.
May is likely to ask the Commons to vote on her deal again (MV3) on Monday. MPs may refuse. The last date the UK can opt to
take part in the European Parliament elections is April 12.
"Nuke it from space"
"Time to take [Article 50], bin it, set the bin on fire, kick it over, and nuke it from space
— we're done."
Dr Mike Galsworthy
about the trending petition
Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU
AR Update 1504 UTC: Petition has 1,012,938 signatures and counting (site keeps crashing)
2019 Vernal Equinox
Theresa May, 2041 UTC
You want us to get on with it, and that is what I am determined to do.
AR She still hasn't given up.
Europe and China
The EU summit this week will focus on China. EU official: "While we were absorbed in our own crises for 10 years, the GDP of China soared and
Trump was elected. We entered a different game."
The EU is China's largest trading partner, and China is the EU's second-largest, behind the US. In 2018, China accounted for about a
fifth of EU goods imports and more than a tenth of its exports. Levels of Chinese direct investment in the EU have soared.
German economy minister Peter Altmaier says China's growing technological prowess shows Europe needs a new industrial strategy. Chinese
investments in Germany raise fears in Berlin about sensitive areas of the economy. German Council on Foreign Relations director Daniela Schwarzer:
"For a long time the business sector was highlighting the relationship with China as a bonus but they are now highlighting the cost of this kind
of engagement. The debate now is risk minimization."
In the EU, 13 member states have signed endorsements of China's Belt and Road program. Northern member states call it opaque and
strategically aggressive and say China can impose crippling debts on recipient states.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi: "Europe will surely keep its fundamental long-term interests in mind and pursue a China policy
that is consistent, independent and forward-leaning. Overall China and Europe relations are in good shape. There are far more areas where we
agree than disagree."
Abel Prize 2019
Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters
The Abel Prize for 2019 goes to Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck of the University of Texas at Austin for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial
differential equations, gauge theory, and integrable systems, and for the impact of her work on analysis, geometry, and mathematical physics.
Her theories have revolutionized our understanding of minimal surfaces, such as those formed by soap bubbles, and more general
minimization problems in higher dimensions.
Uhlenbeck developed tools and methods in global analysis, which are now in the toolbox of every geometer and analyst. Her work also
lays the foundation for contemporary geometric models in mathematics and physics.
Her fundamental work in gauge theory is essential for the modern mathematical understanding of models in particle physics, string
theory, and general relativity.
AR I'm awed. This is stuff I struggle with.
2019 March 19
BBC News, 1612 UTC
Theresa May is writing to the EU to ask for Brexit to be postponed until 30 June with the option of a longer delay. A cabinet minister says there
was "no agreement" in the cabinet this morning. Under current law the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal in 10 days.
Physics Beyond Higgs
In 2012, the Higgs boson materialized at the LHC, leaving open many mysteries about the universe.
We understand little about the Higgs field, or the moment in the early universe when it shifted from being zero everywhere into its
current state. That symmetry-breaking event instantly rendered quarks and many other particles massive, which led them to form atoms and so on.
Perhaps Higgs symmetry breaking led to matter-antimatter asymmetry. Another question is whether the Higgs field is stable or could
suddenly trigger vacuum decay. A growing bubble of true vacuum would swallow up the false vacuum we live in, obliterating everything.
A proposed supercollider would collide electrons and positrons with energies tuned to maximize their chance of yielding Higgs bosons,
whose decays could be measured in detail. In phase two, it would collide protons, resulting in messier but much more energetic collisions.
We want to observe the triple Higgs coupling in which a Higgs boson decays into two of itself. The Standard Model predicts its value,
so any measured deviations would signify new particles. Measuring the coupling would also pin down the shape of the Higgs field.
Should we invest billions of dollars in a machine that might simply sharpen up our knowledge?
AR Better to invest in this than in nuclear overkill.
Andrew Whyte / Sony
Milky Way viewed from the cliffs of the Dorset coast
PDF: 2 pages
2019 March 18
Brexit: No Return
BBC News, 1557 UTC
Commons Speaker John Bercow has ruled out the government holding another vote on its previously rejected Brexit agreement if the motion remains
substantially the same.
Brexit: No Delay
Theresa May will probably ask the EU to give her more time. The EU-27 should refuse. We have enough problems without this farce called Brexit.
The EU urgently needs reform. Letting the divided Brits remain, only to have them hinder progress, would be fatal. They must go.
European Nationalists Love Israel
National populists in central Europe are fascinated with Israel and its right-wing prime minister.
Zionism mirrored the nationalistic politics in central and eastern Europe between the two world wars. European populists see Israel
today as an ethnic democracy. It has preserved the heroic ethos of sacrifice for the nation that nationalists covet for their own societies.
Central and eastern Europeans see Israel as winning the population war by reversing demographic decline. At a time when the population
of eastern Europe is shrinking fast, Israel is persuading diaspora Jews to return and convincing Israelis to have more children.
European populists agree with Yoram Hazony that the big political clash in world history is not between classes or nations but between
nationalists who believe that the nation state is the best form of political organization and imperialists who push for universal empire.
Israel faces existential threats. The threats are real. Whereas the European states are in the EU.
AR Brexiteers see Israel as a model for Fortress UK: defiant, militarized, and tight on immigration.
Peter Müller, Jörg Schindler
UK prime minister Theresa May is the main impediment to solving the Brexit mess.
Last week, May was humiliated by her own party once again. Parliament rejected her divorce deal for the second time, again by a
huge majority. Whatever happens now is no longer up to her.
May has led her country, her party, and herself into a labyrinth. She has neither the power nor the ideas to find a way out. Now,
for many, Brexit has become a vote of confidence in May herself.
May vacillated for months before defining her Brexit. And then she got it wrong. She set bold red lines, she uttered hollow phrases,
and she miscalculated the kind of deal parliament would accept.
May said what matters is the "will of the people," but she was mostly thinking about her own party. To push Brexit over the
finish line in a third vote this week, she is again looking to hard-liners.
May could still choose a different path.
AR To quote Prince Charles: "Really? You don't say."
Science is one area where Britain is world-class. As Brexit and immigration checks loom, we must keep Britain attractive for scientists.
Breakthroughs in frontier science rely on EU collaborations. EU peers want continued frictionless partnership in the Horizon program.
We cannot afford to lose talent mobility in Brexit. UK universities attract the world's best scientists. Brexit Britain could lose
AR Science is universal: British science is an oxymoron.
2019 March 17
For going on three years now, Britain has taken a holiday from sanity. But from the depths of British bungling, hubris, and incompetence is emerging
a St Patrick's Day miracle: the real chance of a united Ireland.
After more than 800 years, London's ruling reach in Northern Ireland may end with the whimpering last gasps of Brexit. Don't wait for
Her Majesty's government to resolve the sovereignty issues holding up the divorce between Britain and the European Union. There is no solution.
What UK prime minister Theresa May calls "our precious union" is held together by 10 MPs representing the old hatreds of North Ireland:
the DUP. Given a choice, a majority in Northern Ireland could well be persuaded to ditch what is left of Britain and form a single Irish nation.
This was all Britain's doing — a single Irish nation finally free of foreign rule.
2019 March 16
Mathematics has a long history of defying expectations and forcing us to expand our imaginations. So mathematicians strive for proof. Still, evidence
is important and useful in mathematics.
The twin primes conjecture is an example. The twin primes conjecture is not the twin primes theorem, because no one has been able to
prove it. Yet almost everyone believes it is true, because there is lots of evidence that supports it.
As we search for large primes, we continue to find extremely large twin prime pairs. The largest currently known pair of twin primes
have nearly 400,000 digits each. We know that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by no more than 246, but we still haven't
proved the twin primes conjecture that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by 2.
Mathematical models are used everywhere in science and can used to study mathematics itself. They are powerful tools that let us
trade a problem we don't fully understand for one we have a better handle on. But we can never be certain that our model behaves enough like the
thing we are trying to understand to draw conclusions about it.
Mathematicians know to be cautious when working with their models.
AR This recalls for me the book
Proofs and Refutations
by Imre Lakatos, which I read with pleasure in 1972, in which he espoused an evolutionary conception of mathematics (inspired by the philosophy of
Karl Popper), and which I soon used to develop my own dialectical picture of logic, mathematics, and reality (inspired by the works of Hegel, Frege,
Gödel et al.).
Dreams of Empire
What may seem, rationally, to be dead, gone, and buried is actually still there, immanent, or hidden, or stolen. An empire. The past week has laid
bare the crisis in British politics.
Leavers dream about the Britons who endured the Nazi siege of the early 1940s as "we" who feel bound to re-enact the slaying of a
European dragon every few generations.
A subliminal empire persists in their dreaming. From Margaret Thatcher they take the credo that nationalism and borderless capitalism
can easily coexist. This idea makes sense only if your country happens to control a global empire.
AR Empire 2.0, Commonwealth 2.0, Common Market 2.0 — all seek refuge in the past.
Common Market 2.0
Next week the prime minister will hold a third "meaningful vote" on her deal. A third defeat is likely.
A Brexit compromise many MPs could support is Common Market 2.0: the UK would join Norway outside the EU but inside the single market.
The UK is already a member of the EEA, which covers the EU and EFTA. All it would need to do is secure consent to renew its EEA membership
after it left the EU and join EFTA by the end of 2020.
Common Market 2.0 would leave the UK out of EU policies on agriculture, fishing, justice, defence, and foreign affairs, out of ECJ
jurisdiction, and paying only for chosen programs and agencies.
The UK would have to accept the free movement of people, but with an emergency brake.
AR I could accept this as an alternative to EU membership.
2019 March 15
A Fourth Reich
First Reich — God the Father and the Hebrews, Second Reich — Jesus and the Christians, Third Reich — the Nazis. More prosaically,
the First Reich of the Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne and the Second Kaiserreich secured by Bismarck led to the Third Reich under Hitler.
The Nazis deprecated the term "Third Reich" because it suggested a coming Fourth Reich. SPD intellectuals drafted a constitution
for the Fourth Reich that would come about after the fall of Hitler. It would be dedicated, they said, to global democracy and the
equality of peoples.
Since 1945, talk of a Fourth Reich offers perspective for calibrating the rise of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). There
were several right-wing German parties in the postwar years. The Socialist Reich Party was founded in 1949 but soon banned by the fledgling
Today, European critics view the European Union as a kind of Reich in thin disguise. The history of the European Union can be written
as an origin story that begins with Hitler but was only realised in opposition to his aims. Europe is now too anglo to have patience
with a German Reich.
AR A provocative train of thought, but worth a moment.
2019 March 14
Brexit: UK To Request Delay
BBC News, 1823 UTC
House of Commons passes the following motion by 412 votes to 202:
The government (1) will seek to agree with the EU an extension of the period specified in article 50;
(2) agrees that, if the house has passed a resolution approving May's deal by 20 March, then the government will
seek to agree with the EU an extension of the period specified in article 50 for a period ending on 30 June for the purpose of
passing the necessary EU exit legislation; and
(3) notes that, if the house has not passed a resolution approving the negotiated deal by 20 March, then it is highly likely
that the EU would require a clear purpose for any extension, and that any extension beyond 30 June would require the UK to hold European
Parliament elections in May 2019.
✗ Amendment (h), calling for an extension to article 50 to allow time for a referendum on Brexit,
was rejected by 334 votes to 85.
✗ Amendment (i), calling for time next week for a debate that would start the process of allowing
MPs to hold indicative votes on Brexit alternatives, was rejected by 312 votes to 314.
✗ Amendment (e), calling for an extension to article 50 to provide parliamentary time for MPs to
find a majority for a different approach to Brexit, was rejected by votes 318 to 302.
AR Some of these questions will be revisited as events unfold in the coming weeks.
Brexit and Democracy
A democratic political system is a formalised way of enacting the will of the people. Since no individual politician can credibly claim to know the
will of the people directly, the system forms a snapshot of that will by collecting the votes of the people and subjecting them to some simple
procedure, such as counting, to assemble a pixelated image.
We can safely leave the technicalities of the pixelation process and the production of a snapshot to the political experts. Experience
of many systems over many years has reduced the business, if not to an exact science, at least to a fine art. What remains is to evaluate the
meaning and the importance of the portrait of the people that results.
Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer: This piece of folk wisdom constrains the value of the individual pixels that depict the
will of the people. A simple yes-no question generates black or white pixels from which only a grainy outline image can be extracted. On the other
hand, a nuanced question will mean different things to different people.
Whatever the outcome, the paramount risk in a democratic system is that the image is taken as the reality. However flawed, the
portrait becomes an icon, a sacred symbol toward which politicians must perform holy rites to appease their voters. The risk is that the people,
thus venerated, develop an inflated sense of their own importance.
Traditional religion, for all its flaws, drummed humility into its followers, and a traditional monarchy drummed humility into its
subjects. But a modern democracy invites its voters, or at least those of them who are on the winning side in a division, to imagine their
sovereign will is supreme. This used to be condemned as the Christian sin of pride.
Self-will, in all its forms, is a dangerous spur to action. The momentary self of an individual person may prompt overindulgence of
a vice such as gluttony or lechery, but the larger shared sense of self of an organised group of people, as in a political movement, can lead to
catastrophic outcomes. History is awash with cautionary examples.
For this reason, in modern times, the nation states of Europe have organised themselves into a superordinate body, the European Union,
that contains and shapes the sovereignty of its members and preserves a modicum of order between its peoples. Similarly, in earlier times, the
different peoples on the British Isles organised themselves into the United Kingdom. In both cases, the aim was to limit and channel the
expression of political self-will toward higher values or virtues that might better serve the common interest.
In recent years, the UK has found itself on a collision course with the EU. The titanic parliamentary juggernaut of the UK
establishment, trailing a historic wake of martial and imperial glory, is now grinding disastrously against the massive continental iceberg into
which the formerly fractious nations of Europe have frozen their animosities. The predicted outcome toward which all sober expectation converges
is that the EU, for all its obvious flaws and weaknesses, will be less damaged by the collision than will the UK.
The bigger picture is worth pondering. The victory of democracy in 1945 led experts to conclude that politicians heeding the popular
will, as expressed in democratic elections and parliaments, were stronger than dictators in more authoritarian systems who failed to carry the
people with them on their political adventures. That conclusion has been allowed to decay in recent years into a lazy acceptance that populism,
in which demagogues uphold relatively wild expressions of popular will for opportunistic reasons, is a valid way to continue the democratic
In Ancient Greek philosophy, the decay of democracy into populism was a precursor to tyranny: A populist leader channels the popular
will by means that short-circuit the checks and balances of the usual democratic processes until that leader finally usurps the popular will and
rules as a tyrant. For some observers, President Trump in America illustrates the early stages of this process. For others, the emergence across
Europe, including Russia, of popular and increasingly authoritarian leaders reveals the same trend.
In the wider sweep of politics, it is worth remembering that democracy is a means, not an end. Individual people will this or that
end in ways that can only be deconflicted in a system that balances the conflicting ends against each other, and democracy has proved to be a
simple and robust mechanism to establish and deliver that balance. By contrast, an authoritarian system will prioritise one set of ends above
all others and force the losers to swallow their pride and accept defeat, if not total ruin.
Populists on the path to tyranny tend to take a crudely pixelated image of the popular will and weaponise it against all opposition.
Soon enough, the image becomes an abstract icon, like a cross on the shield of a crusader, and the people are praised in name only under the
tyrant's rule. This is the road the Bolsheviks took in Soviet Russia when they established the dictatorship of the proletariat, first under
Lenin and then under Stalin, before proceeding to ruin old Europe.
Applied to the collision between the UK and the EU, the drift from democracy to populism is evident in the aggressive sacralisation
of the 17.4 million votes for the Leave cause in the 2016 referendum. That cartoon snapshot of the will of the people may be upheld as iconic,
but like the 2005 Danish cartoon of Muhammad it serves more to divide than unite us. Times change, and reasonable people are not too proud to
change their opinions to reflect new facts.
More specifically, UK parliamentarians have acted in genuflection to the 2016 icon without due appreciation of the need for a better
portrait of the people. The 2017 general election offered no royal road for voters disaffected by the icon and thus deepened their disaffection.
The obvious solution is to commission a new portrait.
Print version (2 pages)
UK papers, Thursday morning
WWW @ 30
Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented
the World Wide Web
30 years ago.
AR And changed my life
— thanks, Tim!
From a video on how to
2019 March 13
Brexit: No No Deal
BBC News, 1950 UTC
House of Commons passes motion to reject no-deal Brexit on 29 March by 321 votes to 278,
amended to reject a no-deal Brexit at any time (approved by 312 votes to 308), but
lacking the "Malthouse compromise" amendment (rejected by 374 votes to 164).
The motion and its amendments are expressions of feeling with no legal force.
AR Sterling rises on the news.
Brexit: On The Brink
Only 16 days before the UK is due to leave the EU, Theresa May's strategy for delivering an orderly departure lies in tatters.
May pursued an unsound strategy, misread her opponents in Brussels, and refused to be honest about the compromises and trade-offs
that the rupture of relations with the EU was bound to entail. Instead she tried to conduct the negotiations by stealth, running down the clock
on her cabinet, her party, parliament, and the public.
The result of all this dissembling has been a calamitous loss of trust. The prime minister long ago forfeited the trust of Brexiteers.
She is not trusted by Remainers. Above all, she has forfeited the trust of the EU.
Last night May was forced to concede a free vote today on whether parliament should back leaving the EU without a deal. That is an
admission that the government is no longer able to provide leadership at this time of crisis. On Thursday she will almost certainly have to offer
another free vote on whether to extend Article 50.
The Conservative party may now decide that only a new leader can find a way forward.
AR Parliament has legislated for Brexit on March 29. Only a surprise plot twist can stop it.
ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg: "I think our expectations are that we will leave without a deal."
Remainers must force a surprise twist. The End of Days scenario is too grim to contemplate.
2019 March 12
Brexit: Titanic Defeat
BBC News, 1922 UTC
House of Commons rejects Theresa May's deal by 391 votes to 242.
Brexit: Avoidable Damage
Today MPs will be asked to cast what will almost certainly be the most important vote of their lives on a Brexit motion that they will have had
just hours to assess.
Brexit is not just about economics. MPs will vote at a time of intense geopolitical volatility, when the unity of the western
alliance has never looked less certain. How their decisions affect this instability should be uppermost in their minds.
The degree of fragmentation of the western alliance was scarcely imaginable when Britain voted in 2016 to quit the EU. New sources
of tension between the allies are emerging almost daily.
President Trump will decide within weeks whether to launch a trade war with the EU. There are also multiple tensions within the EU
itself, not least a new war of words between France and Italy.
There have been tensions between NATO members before. But they never undermined the strategic cohesion of the West. The last time
the world faced such a geopolitical shift came with the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire.
A no-deal Brexit would be a profound geopolitical shock. We cannot assume strategic and security partnerships are unaffected by
AR See my recent essay Ringlord.
AI Is Changing Science
Machine learning and AI offer a new way of doing science. Generative modeling can help identify the most plausible theory among competing
explanations for observational data, based solely on the data. This is a third way between observation and simulation.
A generative adversarial network (GAN) can repair images that have damaged or missing pixels and can make blurry images sharp.
The GAN runs a competition: A generator generates fake data, while a discriminator tries to distinguish fake data from real data. As the
program runs, both halves improve.
More broadly, generative modeling takes sets of data and breaks each of them down into a set of basic blocks in a latent space.
The algorithm manipulates elements of the latent space to see how this affects the original data, and this helps uncover physical processes
at work in the system. Generative modeling automates part of the process of science.
Perhaps future machines will discover physics or mathematics that the brightest humans alive cannot find on their own. Perhaps
future science will be driven by machines that operate on a level we can never reach.
AR In 1988, in a Springer physics newsletter, I said simulation was a third way of doing science, between observation
2019 March 11
What happens this week is likely to prove decisive. If May loses the vote on her deal on Tuesday as expected, will parliamentarians rally round a referendum
on the deal as the only realistic route out of this mess? If they don't, they will edge closer to the cliff edge and a binary choice between May's deal
and no deal. And they will be entirely complicit in whatever follows.
AR Vote for a people's vote.
3blue1brown centers around presenting math with a visuals-first approach. That is, rather than first deciding on a lesson then putting
illustrations to it for the sake of having a video, almost all projects start with a particular visualization, with the narrative and storyline then
revolving around it.
Topics tend to fall into one of two categories:
▸ Lessons on topics people might be seeking out.
▸ Problems in math which many people may not have heard of, and which seem really hard at first,
but where some shift in perspective makes it both doable and beautiful.
I think of the first category as motivating math by its usefulness, and the second as motivating math as an art form.
▸ The YouTube channel
AR I've liked Grant's work for years.
2019 March 10
America vs China
The New York Times
By imposing tariffs on Chinese imports, President Trump created an opportunity to improve the US economic relationship with China. His decision to go
it alone, rather than making common cause with longstanding allies, was ill advised, and his trade war has caused pain for many Americans.
The proper measure of any deal is whether it persuades China to curb its use of state subsidies, regulations, and various kinds of
informal interference that limit the ability of American companies to sell goods and services in China, and help Chinese companies sell goods in
the United States.
The United States has focused its demands on making it easier for American companies to operate in China. But the United States
has failed in past efforts to hold China to its commitments. The risk is that Trump will accept a deal that allows him to claim a
A Rogue President
President Trump reportedly plans to transform America's alliances into a protection racket with a "cost plus 50" plan that would require allies to
pay 150% of the cost of hosting US troops, with a good behavior discount for those countries willing to take their marching orders from Washington.
Former NSC staffer Kori Schake: "The question that dominated the Munich Conference was whether the United States would once again lead
the Western democracies after Trump is gone, or whether the Europeans need to protect themselves further against a disruptive America."
Former US defense secretary Bill Cohen: "Why has Trump adopted an agenda that exactly replicates Vladimir Putin's bucket list? ..
The President of the United States may well be compromised by the Russians, which I truly believe is the case. And he is unfit to serve."
2019 March 9
Neuroscience and Consciousness
Consciousness is a hard problem in science. A new project funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation aims to narrow the options for tackling it.
Researchers will collaborate on how to conduct discriminating experiments.
Bernard Baars and Stanislas Dehaene suggest conscious behavior arises when we hold information in a global workspace within the brain,
where it can be broadcast to brain modules associated with specific tasks. This view is called global workspace theory (GWT).
Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi say consciousness is an intrinsic property of the right kind of cognitive network. This is integrated
information theory (IIT). IIT portrays consciousness as the causal power of a system to make a difference to itself.
Koch and Tononi define a measure of information integration, Φ, to represent how much a network as a whole can influence itself.
This depends on interconnectivity of feedback.
Researchers have now designed experiments to test the different predictions of GWT and IIT. According to GWT, the neural correlates
of consciousness should show up in parts of the brain including the parietal and frontal lobes. According to IIT, the seat of consciousness is
instead likely to be in the sensory representation in the back of the brain.
Anil Seth thinks the Templeton project may be premature.
Animals Are Emotional
Frans de Waal
I believe we share all emotions with other species in the same way we share virtually every organ in our bodies with them. Like organs, the emotions
evolved over millions of years to serve essential functions. Their usefulness has been tested again and again, giving them the wisdom of ages,
and none is fundamentally new.
Open your front door and tell your dog that you are going out for a walk, then close the door and return to your seat. Your dog, who
had been barking and wriggling with excitement, now slinks back to his basket and puts his head down on his paws. You have just witnessed both
hope and disappointment in another species.
Whatever the difference between humans and other animals may be, it is unlikely to be found in the emotional domain.
AR Who doubts it?
Are We Alone?
Enrico Fermi said there are lots of stars and extraterrestrial life might be common, so we should get visitors. But where are they?
In a new paper, Jonathan Carroll-Nellenback, Jason Wright, Adam Frank, and Caleb Scharf model the spread of a settlement front across
the galaxy, and find its speed is strongly affected by the motions of stars. A settlement front could cross an entire galaxy based just on the
motions of stars, regardless of the power of propulsion systems.
The Fermi paradox does not mean ET life does not exist. The Milky Way may be partially settled, or intermittently so. The solar system
may well be amid other settled systems and has just been unvisited for millions of years.
AR We are not alone.
SpaceX Crew Dragon returns to Earth in Atlantic splashdown
"Trump is not forever.
Brexit is. Britain's youth
oppose it. A decision of
this import should be
grounded in reality."
2019 March 8
The Large Hadron Collider generated about 300 GB of data per second. To make sense of all that information, the LHC data was pumped out to 170
computing centers in 42 countries. This global collaboration helped discover the Higgs boson.
A proposed Future Circular Collider would create at least twice as much data as the LHC. CERN researchers are looking at the emerging
field of quantum computing. The EU has pledged to give $1 billion to researchers over the next decade, while venture capitalists invested some
$250 million in quantum computing research in 2018 alone.
Qubits can be made in different ways. Two qubits can be both in state A, both in state B, one in state A and one in state B, or vice
versa, to give four probabilities. To know the state of a qubit, you measure it, collapsing the state. With every qubit added to its memory size,
a quantum computer should get exponentially increased computational power.
Last year, Caltech physicists replicated the discovery of the Higgs boson by sifting through LHC data using a quantum computer based
on quantum annealing. Dips in a landscape of peaks and valleys represent possible solutions and the system finds the lowest dips via quantum
There are three other main approaches to quantum computing: integrated circuits, topological qubits, and ions trapped with lasers.
Quantum chips are integrated circuits with superconducting quantum gates. Each quantum gate holds a pair of qubits. The chip is
supercooled to 10 mK to keep the qubits in superposition. A useful machine needs about 1,000 qubits with low noise and error correction to make
up just one logical qubit. So far, we only have error correction for up to 10 qubits.
Topological qubits would be much more stable. The idea is to split a particle in two, creating Majorana fermion quasi-particles,
so that one topological qubit is a logical one. Scaling such a device to thousands of logical qubits would be much easier.
Trapped ions show superposition effects at room temperature and each ion is a qubit. Researchers trap them and run algorithms using
laser beams that write data to the ions and read it out by change the ion states. So far, the ion qubits are noisy.
Meanwhile, at CERN, the clock is ticking.
Next week MPs in Westminster face a crucial choice: whether to back the Brexit deal or to reject it. Back it, and the UK will leave the European Union.
Reject it, and no one knows what will happen. We may not leave the EU for many months, we may leave without the protections that the deal provides.
We may never leave at all.
AR Revoke, remain, repent, reform (UK and EU)
2019 March 7
Drove from Amiens to Cherbourg, then enjoyed a stormy sea voyage from Cherbourg to Poole
2019 March 6
Drove from Gaiberg to Amiens, then enjoyed a fine dinner in that beautiful city
2019 March 5, Faschingsdienstag
Citizens of Europe, I am taking the liberty of addressing you directly ..
Never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as the symbol of .. the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger
mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.
Europe is not just an economic market. It is a project .. European civilisation unites, frees, and protects us .. We need to ..
reinvent the shape of our civilisation in a changing world.
Now is the time for a European renaissance .. I propose we build this renewal together around three ambitions: freedom, protection,
and progress .. We need to build European renewal on these pillars .. In this Europe, the people will really take back control of their future.
The Brexit impasse is a lesson for us all. We need to escape this trap and make the forthcoming elections and our project meaningful ..
Together we chart the road to European renewal.
AR Good — Britain needs a hero like Macron.
is a dark comedy starring a woman stuck in a time loop. She dies, only to be resurrected in a new branch of the multiverse.
Nadia has to convince someone that she is reliving the same night. She meets Alan, who also keeps dying and reliving the same day,
and sees their experience as a video game. Their inner lives continue as one linear experience while their bodies keep dying.
Nadia: "Time is relative to your experience. We've been experiencing time differently in these loops, but this tells us that
somewhere, linear time as we used to understand it still exists."
AR Experienced time is the innermost bastion of consciousness. Its linearity through outer confusion (in this
case sorted into a multiverse experience) is a criterion of rationality. To lose the thread is to lose your mind.
2019 March 4, Rosenmontag
Upside to Brexit?
Brexit may have an upside. When its most globally minded member leaves, the EU must rethink its mission and vision.
The new global rivalry is between free and unfree market economies. China has decoupled personal freedom from freedom of innovation.
With a GDP of close to $25 trillion, China is potentially the most powerful economy in world history.
For the first time in modern history, technological leadership is being assumed by a power unchecked by the democratic vote. China's
legal tradition puts collective interests above individual rights.
China maintains a clear strategic outlook. Chinese Communists appear to have learned lessons from both the rise of the British Empire
and the fall of the Soviet Union. Unlike Europe, China speaks with one voice, and expresses one vision.
The West needs a stronger alliance to compete. Brexit could force Britain and Europe to push back against China.
China vs Germany
Germany is ambivalent about China. It needs Chinese technology. But Germany also worries about Chinese companies acquiring its technology.
Germany once saw China as an export market for machinery with which China would develop its industrial base. Today, China is
becoming the senior partner in the relationship.
The two countries have a lot in common. Both are export-driven economies with large external savings surpluses. But German
economic strategy is not nearly as consistent.
In Europe, macroeconomic policy, industrial policy, and foreign and security policy are run independently of each other.
China has an integrated approach to policy.
The Europeans did not see this coming. Complacency is about to turn into panic.
Europe vs Brexit
The European way of life includes fundamental values and rules: the rule of law, democracy, independent media, the social market economy, and the
equality of men and women.
Developments across Europe are shocking. Antisemitism is returning with a bang. The development of a European Islam rooted in our
fundamental values has not been successful.
I am concerned that populists could become stronger in the European Parliament. Brexit shows what happens if you follow the
simplistic answers presented by populists.
We have been negotiating with Britain for almost three years and we have hardly made any progress. I have little sympathy
for a postponement that would simply prolong the chaos in London.
The participation of British voters in the EU election is inconceivable to me. I can't explain to people in Germany or Spain that
people who want to leave the EU should be given a vote on its future.
The EU must reform its institutions, limit migration, and face up to the challenges presented by Donald Trump, such as a trade
conflict. I can't let the British tragedy infect the rest of the EU.
Utterly, Utterly Stupid
What the UK is doing is utterly, utterly stupid, an act of self harm with no point, no upside.
The days when Leavers talked about the sunlit uplands are over. Instead there has emerged one justification for Brexit:
the 2016 referendum. People voted for it, so it must be done.
Warnings from big business become an excuse to talk about WW2 again. The case for Leaving has become little more than xenophobia
The worst excuse not to hold a people's vote is that a second referendum would be undemocratic. Orwell must be turning in his
2019 March 3
The Trump Narrative
President Trump has been a magician in masterminding a narrative that he's going to stand up for America and he's not beholden to the swamp.
This week put the lie to his narrative.
The collapse of the talks in North Korea has put the lie to his story that he had a historic accomplishment. There has not been
a breakthrough, and Trump conceded the point and left.
Back home, the idea Trump is a beacon of truth was seriously damaged by what Michael Cohen said and the people he identified
who will be brought forward to testify.
A changing Hubble constant suggests dark energy might be increasing. To calibrate the Hubble constant, we use supernovas and variable stars whose
distances we can estimate.
NASA HST results give 72 km/s per Mpc for the Hubble constant, and other results agree. But the ESA Planck map of the CMB predicts
a Hubble constant of 67. We have a problem.
We can use quasar emissions to trace back the history of the cosmos nearly 12 billion years. The rate of cosmic expansion seems to
deviate from expectations over that time.
The cosmos is now doubling in size every 10 billion years. String theory allows space to be laced with energy fields called
quintessence that oppose gravity and could change over time.
In the coming decade, ESA mission Euclid and NASA mission WFIRST are designed to help solve the problem with the Hubble
2019 March 2
Europawahl: Briten Raus
Europäischen Volkspartei (EVP) Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber (CSU): "Eine Teilnahme der britischen Bürger an der
Europawahl ist für mich undenkbar. Ich kann doch in Deutschland oder Spanien niemandem erklären, dass Bürger, die die EU
verlassen wollen, noch mal wesentlichen Anteil daran nehmen sollen, deren Zukunft zu gestalten."
AR Weber hat sicherlich recht: Schmeißen die Briten raus!
The Brexit Mess
Sir Ivan Rogers
Four weeks before the Brexit deadline, the British political class is unable to come to any serious conclusion about what kind of Brexit they want.
The UK political elite has fractured in both parties. In British politics, unless you occupy the center you are finished. But the
center has largely collapsed and populists have gained more influence.
Theresa May wants to reduce the numbers of people coming into the UK. Having started with her hardline position, every time she moves
a little bit back, the right wing of her party cries betrayal.
I have worked with several prime ministers very closely, and none of them had a deep understanding how the EU works. The UK has always
had a rather mercantile relationship with its neighbors.
European leaders spend too little time thinking about how the continent should look in future after Brexit. Assuming Brexit happens,
German politicians must ask how we are going to work together.
Europeans need to tell the UK what they want. They will need to be told what degree of divergency the UK wants and why. This will
AR Perhaps 40 years in the wilderness will teach Brits some manners.
2019 March 1
Fast Radio Bursts
Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-long blips of intense radio signals that pop up all over the sky. To explain them, we need an object that can
emit lots of energy and a way to transform the energy into a bright radio signal.
FRBs may arise from a magnetar, a young neutron star that can emit charged particles into the surrounding clutter and create a shock wave,
which beams a brief flash of radio waves into the universe. Some FRBs repeat at unpredictable intervals from dense regions of plasma with extreme
magnetic fields. Each burst contains sub-bursts that shift from higher to lower frequencies.
In models of nuclear detonations, the shock fronts sweep up more gas as they expand outward. That extra weight slows down the shock, and
because it slows, radiation released from the shock front shifts downward in frequency.
Flares from a magnetar run into particles emitted during previous flares. Where new ejecta meets older debris, it piles up into a shock,
inside which magnetic fields soar. As the shock presses outward, the electrons inside gyrate around along magnetic field lines, and that motion
produces a burst of radio waves. That signal then shifts from higher to lower frequencies as the shock slows.
If the model is correct, future FRBs should follow the same downward shift in frequency. They might show gamma-ray or X-ray emission
and should live in galaxies that are producing fresh magnetars. When they repeat, they should take breaks from bursting after a major flare.
Coming soon: new data to help us explain them.
Flying with Rolf Kickuth in his gyrocopter over Mannheim, Germany, 25 February
Conservative party loses
3 MPs to the new group
formed by 7 Labour MPs.
An 8th Labour MP joins.
Team total so far: 11
2019 February 28
Walk in the woods, alone with my thoughts, near Dudenhofen, west of Speyer
2019 February 27
Coffee date in the sun with old friend Matthias Störmer in Schwetzingen Schlossplatz
2019 February 26
With Rolf to BASF press conference in Ludwigshafen — photo
2019 February 25
To Blue Sky
In gyrocopter from Mannheim City Airport to blue sky over the Rhine-Neckar region
2019 February 24
In car from Amiens to my friends Angela and Rolf in Gaiberg, Germany
2019 February 23
With car to Cherbourg, in car to Amiens, driving in warm sunlight
2019 February 22
The Dawn Of Time
Near the South Pole, the BICEP3 telescope captures light from the dawn of time. A few years ago, BICEP2 researchers thought they had found proof of
cosmic inflation, but they made an error.
Up to 12 Ts ABB, the universe was a hot, dense soup of elementary particles. Then it cooled, atoms formed, and the cosmos became
transparent. The CMB is made up of the first free photons.
Inflation explains the smooth distribution of galaxies in the universe. Tiny quantum fluctuations in the first moments ABB produced
an uneven distribution of matter that was amplified as the cosmos expanded. Inflation smoothed out the bumps.
Tiny temperature variations in the CMB are largely consistent with the main inflationary models. We seek a more detailed appreciation
of how CMB photons are polarized. The Planck telescope mapped this polarization with only limited sensitivity.
Inflation implies that turbulence in the fabric of the early universe made gravitational waves. These waves left a "B-mode" pattern
in the CMB polarization. But any such polarization signals are far smaller than the fluctuations mapped by Planck.
The BICEP2 detector had 256 pixels but BICEP3 has 1280. Teamed with the Keck Array, the researchers began gathering data in 2016
and could soon detect the primordial B-mode signal.
A Theory Of Everything
Richard Feynman said there are multiple valid ways of describing many physical phenomena. In quantum theory, Feynman diagrams indicate the
probabilities, or scattering amplitudes, of different particle-collision outcomes.
In 2013, Nima Arkani-Hamed and Jaroslav Trnka discovered a reformulation of scattering amplitudes that makes no reference to
spacetime: The amplitudes of certain particle collisions are encoded in the volume of a geometric object: the
Einstein's general theory of relativity weaves space and time into the 4D fabric of spacetime. The theory is incomplete, but it
has a clean and compelling mathematical structure. To discover a deeper way of explaining the universe, you must jump to a totally different
To Arkani-Hamed, theoretical physics is a matter of discovering questions. Calculating the volume of the amplituhedron is a
question in geometry. The answer describes the behavior of particles without mentioning spacetime.
2019 February 21
Möbius Bands In Space
Moscow mathematician Olga Frolkina has proved that the Möbius band (a 2D loop with a half-twist) cannot be packed an uncountably infinite
number of times into an infinite amount of 3D space.
The Möbius band is an example of a non-orientable manifold, a mathematical object on which you cannot fix a notion of inside
and outside that will stay consistent as you travel around the space.
Objects such as disks and spheres can be tamely embedded into 3D space. Wild embeddings are trickier. An uncountable infinity of
spheres and tori can be embedded into 3D space without overlap if the embeddings are tame but not if they are wild.
Uncountably many tamely embedded Möbius bands cannot fit in 3D space without intersecting each other. Frolkina proved this
too for wildly embedded Möbius bands.
AR The higher-dimensional results are interesting too.
2019 February 20
Record German Export Surplus
Germany ran the world's largest trade surplus in 2018. German sales of goods and services overseas last year outstripped its imports by
€249 billion. This was by far the widest in the world.
AR Make things people want to buy — sounds good to me.
Honda Abandons Brexit Britain
Japanese company Honda is closing its car plant in Swindon.
Access to the EU market caused global car companies to locate in the UK. Friction between the UK and the EU hinders their operations.
The car industry involves massive economies of scale, and the supply chains cannot be confined to the UK.
Other car companies will cut production in the UK. Uncertain access to the EU market after Brexit is a reason. Whatever the
final relationship between the UK and the EU, the tactic of running down the clock to March 29 carries costs.
Global car companies will tend to avoid Brexit Britain.
AR Japan will see Brexit Britain as a failing state.
British Labour Antisemitism Split
Labour MP Ruth George says the seven MPs who quit the party might be secretly funded by Israel. They are resigning over Jeremy
Corbyn's handling of antisemitism in the party as well as Brexit.
AR Labour and antisemitism — fatal.
2019 February 19
Islamophobia is now a central part of politics in most major capitals worldwide. And countries that were once seen as strongholds of moderate
Islam are witnessing a rise in radical Islamism.
✠ China has imprisoned more than a million Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in mass internment camps.
International slowness to protest may reflect an increasingly hostile attitude to Muslim minorities in other parts of the world.
✠ India is governed by Hindu nationalists. BJP militants regard Islam as alien to India. About
1 in 7 of the Indian population is Muslim, but there was no Muslim among the 282 BJP MPs in 2014.
✠ In America since 9/11, many more American civilians have fallen victim to school shootings
than to Islamist terrorists, but anti-Muslim rhetoric by US politicians has become more pronounced.
✠ In Europe, mass migration has produced a surge in support for nationalist and Islamophobic
parties. Such parties are now in government in Hungary, Austria, Italy, and Poland.
✠ In Turkey, secularists fear the president will Islamize their country.
✠ In Pakistan, Islamists use blasphemy laws as a weapon.
A clash of civilizations is emerging.
AR I think monotheism needs an upgrade.
2019 February 18
Climate: Time to Panic
Last October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing climate effects at 1.5 K and 2 K of global warming.
The report gave good reason for scientists worldwide to freak out. This is progress.
Alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable, for several reasons:
1 Climate change is a crisis because it is a looming catastrophe that demands an aggressive global
response. The emissions path we are on today is likely to take us to 1.5 K of warming by 2040 and 2 K within decades after that. Many
big cities in the Mideast and South Asia would become lethally hot in summer. Coastal cities worldwide would be threatened with inundation.
Many millions of people would flee droughts, floods, and extreme heat. It is right to be alarmed.
2 Catastrophic thinking makes it easier to see the threat of climate change clearly. For years, we
have pictured a landscape of possibilities that began with the climate as it exists today and ended with the pain of 2 K, the ceiling of
suffering. In fact, it is almost certainly a floor. By far the likeliest outcomes for the end of this century fall between 2 K and 4 K of
3 Complacency remains a much bigger political problem than fatalism. A national survey showed a
majority of Americans were unwilling to spend even $10 a month to address global warming, and most drew the line at $1 a month. If we delay
the decarbonization effort by another decade, we will have to cut emissions by some 9% each year. We have to get started now.
4 Our mental reflexes run toward disbelief in the possibility of very bad outcomes. Complacency is
hard to shake. Cognitive biases distort and distend our perception of a changing climate. All the biases that push us toward complacency
are abetted by our storytelling about warming.
Individual lifestyle choices are trivial compared with what politics can achieve. Buying an electric car is a drop in the
bucket compared with raising car-emission standards sharply. Flying less is a lot easier if high-speed rail is an option. Politics is a
Brexit: The Movie
Ben Aston and I discuss Brexit at Bournemouth University on February 14 (YouTube: 1 hr, 45 min, 39 sec)
2019 February 17
Brexit: May Could Lose
Theresa May might well lose the Commons vote on her Brexit deal on February 27. Cabinet sources fear this would let parliament seize control
of the Brexit negotiations. On the same day, MPs are due to vote on an amendment by Yvette Cooper and Sir Oliver Letwin that would force
May to ask Brussels for a delay to Brexit.
A cabinet minister: "We may lose Brexit altogether."
AR That loss would give me occasion to celebrate for the first time in three years.
2019 February 16
At the Munich Security Conference, German chancellor Angela Merkel warned of a collapse of the international order into tiny parts: "Do we fall
apart into pieces of a puzzle and think everyone can solve the question best for himself alone?"
On the Russian and American decision to cancel the 1987 INF treaty: "Disarmament is something that concerns us all, and where we
would, of course, be delighted if such talks were held not just between the United States, Europe and Russia, but also with China."
Merkel said German defense spending is due to reach 1.5% by 2024 and that development spending in Africa also brought greater
security: "We have to think in networked structures. The military component is one of them. We need NATO as a stability anchor in stormy
times. We need it as a community of values."
Munich Security Conference
Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel: "Wir leben in einem Zeitalter, in dem die Spuren des Menschen so tief in die Erde eindringen,
dass auch die nachfolgenden Generationen sie sehen können .. Who will pick up the pieces? .. Nur wir alle zusammen."
Merkel erinnerte daran, dass sich auch Deutschland bewegen müsse, wenn Europa eine gemeinsame militärische Kultur
entwickeln wolle. Wenn man mit Frankreich über gemeinsame Rüstungsprojekte rede, müsse man sich auch auf eine gemeinsame
Politik bei den Rüstungsexporten einigen.
Brexit Strategy Failed
Theresa May will face a wall of resistance when she returns to Brussels next week. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told diplomats from EU
member states her Brexit strategy had "failed" after her latest parliamentary defeat and that her strategy could not work.
An ambassador: "We have a major problem."
2019 February 15
The New York Times
President Trump is planning to take executive overreach to new heights. Cornered into accepting a budget deal that lacks the $5.7 billion in
border wall funding he demanded, the president has a solution: Sign the bill while simultaneously declaring a national emergency that lets
him shift funds and order the military to start building his wall.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: "President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated
before, he will also take other executive action, including a national emergency, to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian
crisis at the border."
The influx of migrant families at the southern border does not constitute a national security crisis. There is a worsening
humanitarian crisis, actively fueled by the policies of the administration. The suffering requires thoughtful policy adjustments, not a wall.
Confronted with this power grab, every lawmaker should be bellowing in alarm. Until recently, the threat of an imperial presidency
was of grave constitutional concern to Republicans, who accused President Obama of misusing executive authority.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "Just think of what a president with different values can present to the American people."
Trump: "I have the absolute right to do national emergency if I want."
AR And the House has the right to do impeachment.
In 1925, Erwin Schrödinger wrote an equation to describe the wavy nature of quantum particles. The Schrödinger equation ascribes to a
particle a wave function, φ, whose amplitude determines the particle's behavior.
In 1926, Max Born suggested interpreting the wave function in terms of probability. He said the amplitude of the wave function at
position x is related to the probability of finding the particle at x in a measurement: The probability is given by
the product φ*φ of the wave function φ with its complex conjugate φ*.
Lluís Masanes, Thomas Galley, and Markus Müller (MGM) show that the Born rule follows from basic postulates of quantum
mechanics, given a few basic assumptions:
1 Quantum states are formulated as vectors.
2 So long as a particle is not measured, it evolves so as to preserve information.
3 How you group the parts of a system is irrelevant to a measurement outcome.
4 A measurement on a quantum system produces a unique outcome.
MGM do not assume the technical requirements of quantum mechanics directly. Instead, they derive them, like the Born rule, from the
Adán Cabello assumes there is no underlying physical law that dictates measurement outcomes. Every outcome can happen if it
is consistent with the outcome probabilities of different experiments. He shows that quantum measurement outcomes follow the Born rule as a
matter of logic.
In both approaches, quantum theory is founded on simple postulates.
2019 February 14
Brexit: May Defeat
House of Commons, 1745 UTC
MPs have delivered a blow to Theresa May's authority by rejecting her motion by 303 votes to 258:
Motion: "That this House welcomes the prime minister's statement of 12 February 2019; reiterates its support for the approach
to leaving the EU expressed by this House on 29 January 2019 and notes that discussions between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland
backstop are ongoing."
"When the chips are down, [Theresa May] will actually prefer to do what some of my esteemed colleagues prefer, and to head for the exit door
without a deal, which the secretary of state informed us is the policy of Her Majesty's government in the event that her deal has not succeeded.
That is terrifying fact."
— Sir Oliver Letwin
AR Depose her.
Brexit: Insurmountable Impact
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte says Britain is a diminished country after its vote for Brexit.
Rutte says companies are shifting offices and staff to The Netherlands from the UK: "Every businessman I speak to from the UK
is saying they will cut investments, cut their business in the UK. It will have an insurmountable impact on the UK."
Rutte: "We have to realise we are not toothless, we have our means of power as the EU."
Brexit: National Crisis
Sir Nigel Sheinwald et al.
As former diplomats, our advice to Theresa May is that we should not leave the EU when we have no clarity about our final destination. We must
seek to extend the Article 50 negotiating period.
Brexit has turned into a national crisis. There is no possible deal that will be a sensible alternative to the privileged one
we have today as members of the EU with a seat at the table.
There is now a powerful argument to go back to the people and ask them whether they want the negotiated Brexit deal or would
prefer to stay in the EU.
— Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Lord Kerr, Lord Hannay, .. [total > 40]
Brexit: Dark Money
The Brexit referendum was won with the help of widespread cheating. Both of the main leave campaigns were fined for illegal activities. But the
government has so far failed to introduce a single new law in response to these events.
Since mid-January, Britain's Future has spent £125,000 on Facebook ads demanding a hard or no-deal Brexit. Britain's Future
has no published address and releases no information about who founded it, who controls it, and who has been paying for these ads.
British rules governing funding for political parties, elections, and referendums are next to useless. They were last redrafted
19 years ago, when online campaigning had scarcely begun. The Electoral Commission has none of the powers required to regulate online campaigning.
The UK government wants to keep the system as it is.
How Brains Code Time
Marc Howard and Karthik Shankar have built a mathematical model of how the brain might encode time: As sensory neurons fire in response to an
unfolding event, the brain maps the temporal component of that activity to a representation of the experience in a Laplace transform. The
brain preserves information about the event as a function of a variable it can encode and then maps it back into an inverse Laplace transform
to reconstruct a compressed record.
There are "time cell" neurons in the brain, each tuned to fire at certain points in a span of time, with different frequencies,
to bridge time gaps between experiences. One can look at the firings and determine when a stimulus was presented from which cells fired.
This is the inverse Laplace transform part of the model.
The medial and lateral entorhinal cortex provide input to the hippocampus, which generates episodic memories of experiences that
occur at a particular time in a particular place. Albert Tsao knew the medial entorhinal cortex was responsible for mapping place and guessed
the lateral entorhinal cortex harbored a signal of time.
Tsao examined the neural activity in the lateral entorhinal cortex of rats as they foraged for food. In the trials, the firing
rates of the neurons spiked when the rat entered the box and decreased at varying rates as time passed. That activity ramped up again at the
start of the next trial. In some cells, activity declined not only during each trial but throughout the entire experiment. Hundreds of neurons
worked together to record the order of the trials and the length of each one.
Howard saw that the different rates of decay in the neural activity looked like a Laplace transform of time. His model can explain
how we create and maintain a timeline of the past. That timeline could be of use not just to episodic memory in the hippocampus, but to working
memory in the prefrontal cortex and conditioning responses in the striatum.
Howard is working on extending the theory to other domains of cognition.
On February 13-14, 1945, the city of Dresden was incinerated by British and American bombers
"That was another hard
round of negotiations"
has an odd shape
The Paradise Papers
revealed tax avoidance
on a global scale
In 1945, B-29 "Enola Gay"
delivered an atom bomb
"I've been wondering what
the special place in hell
looks like for people who
promoted Brexit without
even a sketch of a plan how
to carry it out safely."
2019 February 13
Germany on Brexit
Helene von Bismarck
Angela Merkel remains chancellor, and her priorities for the Withdrawal Agreement are shared widely across the German political spectrum:
EU27 cohesion and single market integrity come first, the Anglo-German relationship second.
The EU is currently facing great challenges, such as EZ fragility, populism, and migration. Faced with a choice between
punishing the UK for Brexit or punishing the EU for it, the German government will not hesitate. British attempts to persuade the
German government to act as a broker for Britain within the EU27 are a waste of time.
2019 February 12
The European Union could go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Europe needs to recognize the magnitude of the threat. In the elections for the European Parliament in May 2019, the present party
system hampers those who want to preserve the founding values of the EU but helps those who want something radically different.
◼ Germany and the Right
The dominant CDU/CSU alliance in Germany has become unsustainable. The AfD entry into the Bavarian parliament broke the purpose of
the alliance. The current ruling coalition cannot be as robustly pro-European as it would be without the AfD threatening its right flank. The
good news is that the Greens are rising and the AfD seems to have reached a peak. But the CDU/CSU commitment to European values is ambivalent.
◼ UK and Brexit
The antiquated UK party structure prevents the popular will from finding proper expression. Both Labour and the Conservatives are
internally divided, but both parties seem determined to deliver Brexit. The public is becoming aware of the dire consequences of Brexit, which
could raise a groundswell of support for a referendum or for revocation of the Article 50 notification.
◼ Italy and Immigration
The EU made a fatal mistake in 2017 by strictly enforcing the Dublin Agreement, which unfairly burdens countries like Italy where
migrants first enter the EU. This drove Italy to the populists in 2018, leaving the pro-Europeans with no party to vote for. A similar reordering
of party systems is happening in France, Poland, Sweden, and probably elsewhere.
◼ Hungary and Nationalism
National parties at least have some roots in the past, but the trans-European alliances are entirely dictated by their party leaders.
The European People's Party (EPP) is almost entirely devoid of principles, as demonstrated by its willingness to permit the continued membership
of the Hungarian Fidesz party.
One can still make a case for preserving the EU in order radically to reinvent it. But the current EU leadership is reminiscent of
the politburo when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Mobilize the masses to defend EU founding values!
AR The founding values of the EU are still a high point in human moral achievement. The challenge is to re-engineer their
implementation to accommodate new technology (fake news in social media, high cost of medical advances, rise of global manufacturing chains, and
so on) by radically transforming the party landscape. As Soros says, the Greens offer a beacon of hope.
2019 February 11
The Brexit Effect
Brexit has visibly depressed UK economic data for the year 2018. Most economists agree that Brexit has cost Britain 2 ± 0.5% of GDP, and
higher inflation and lower growth since 2016 has reduced household incomes by 4.1%, an average of £1500 per household.
Brexit: High Noon?
Theresa May proposes to return to the Commons by 27 February. That vote may be Brexit high noon. A delay until 25 March is unthinkable.
No MP can take such a big decision so soon before D-Day.
Brexit: Extend Article 50
The British people does not have any real clarity about the future UK relationship with its closest neighbours. The political declaration was meant to set
out a framework for a future relationship and clarify the general direction on such issues as membership of the single market or a customs union.
What has happened in recent days has erased these basic navigation points. A lack of clarity about Brexit that was once seen as unfortunate
political necessity has been trumpeted as its chief political virtue. The Conservative party is united only around a set of ambiguous ideas that settle
What is being brushed over here is a fundamental choice about how the UK economy, society, and government will operate in years to come. It
is irresponsible for any government to contemplate embarking on such a perilous journey as Brexit without giving voters any idea of the destination.
A better understanding of future customs arrangements, trade policy, immigration, and rules for businesses is essential for jobs,
investment, and the work of government. Questions about all this are not details to be filled in at a later date. These are massively important
to all British citizens.
Leaving now, with so much unclear and uncertain, is a recipe for further division and dysfunction in politics. If government and
parliament cannot agree, they can hand the final decision back to the people in a new referendum. The UK must now seek an extension of the
Article 50 timetable.
Brexit: "Halt Ze German Advance"
English identity is in crisis. Germany has long since been the most prominent other. This has fueled the ongoing Brexit chaos and the deterioration
of political discourse in the UK.
Brexit supporters have framed Brexit as a means to return to a more triumphal era: the idea of Empire 2.0, a Spitfire aircraft
restored with government funds to fly around the world, a new Global Britain unshackled from Europe — all a retreat into fantasy.
Brexiteers are becoming increasingly shrill in their rhetoric, pushing the blame on to others. Germany is a frequent target, and now
someone is putting up "Halt Ze German Advance" anti-EU billboards.
From Theodora Dickinson's incorrectly quoted Thatcher reference to Germans and the Holocaust, to Conservative MP Mark Francois'
shameful words about "Teutonic arrogance" and "bullying" on live TV, to his fellow Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski's lying tweet about the
Marshall Plan, all these cases have two things in common: they ignore facts and abuse history.
With their cheap populist jingoism, these politicians and commentators are blowing up bridges built over decades. Underpinned
by an entirely misplaced sense of exceptionalism and entitlement, they reveal that Brexit has nothing positive to offer.
If the only way you can define yourself and your role in the world is by talking contemptuously about another country and its
people, abusing history, and distorting facts while expecting preferential treatment for yourself, well, to hell with you.
AR The last five words are my final flourish.
2019 February 10
Trump and Brexit
The Trump and Brexit projects have ended up remarkably similar. Both have broken down over the issue of a hard border with a neighbouring country.
Both are flirting with a trade war. Neither looks able to pass any more legislation.
Anglo-American populism is a unique mixture of wronged superpower vengeance plus buccaneering capitalism. Here is the Trump-Brexit
governing philosophy, as revealed in power:
▸ Destroying the status quo might be better than the status quo.
▸ ▸ ▸ [+16 further points of similarity]
▸ The revolution never compromises, not even with reality.
A Crazy Situation
Everyone is waiting for a miraculous solution. I have never seen such a crazy situation in all my life.
The prime minister is obsessed with keeping the Conservative party in one piece. The hardline Brexiteers have formed a party within
the party. I would love to see them leave the party, but Theresa May is trying to keep them on side.
The Brexit debate has crippled our political system and distorted the usual process of politics.
A Secret State
Brexit is a war the British have declared on themselves. The only major European country to escape both communism and fascism, or occupation by the
armies of Hitler or Stalin, has hard time taking the possibility of disaster seriously.
Britain has a hidden government, thinking the unthinkable in secret, to prevent voters realising the scale of the trouble they are
in. Civil servants are eager to be part of the great Brexit game.
But the collapsing UK political system can no more provide the civil service with a clear direction than it can say where it will
be this summer. This is not competent public administration.
Brexiteers' lack of concern for their fellow citizens borders on sociopathic. When Brexit fails, they will say it was betrayed
by the Whitehall establishment.
Mail on Sunday
The Danish island of Lindholm, home to a research station for animal diseases and a cemetery for infected carcasses, will become a fortress to dump
rejected and criminal refugees.
Denmark is bitterly divided over migration. Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen warns that migrant ghettos could fuel gang
violence, and the Danish People's Party (DPP) calls for harsh policies to defend Danish values.
A €110 million plan to turn Lindholm into a holding pen for up to 125 unwanted arrivals, including convicted killers, will
leave the migrants free to leave the island on its two ferries, one called Virus, so long as they check in daily with police. Protesting
locals fear their peace will be ruined.
AR Brexit Britain is an island solution too.
2019 February 9
US Presidential Oversight
The New York Times
A president whose administration does not have the confidence of the people cannot govern effectively, or legitimately. Accountability is crucial
to that confidence.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi: "It's not investigation; it's oversight. It's our congressional responsibility, and if we didn't do it,
we would be delinquent in our duties."
The president should focus on the big picture. The public will feel much more confident in his leadership once some of the more
disturbing questions have been answered.
Brexit Backstop Plan
We have a disaster waiting to happen on 29 March.
The UK, Northern Ireland (NI), the Republic of Ireland (RI), and the EU all want to preserve peace in NI based on the Good Friday
agreement. I propose a plan that tries to take the interests of four parties into account:
▸ The UK says the backstop has to go. It undermines UK sovereignty, which has priority over peace
in NI. The UK wants freedom to negotiate FTAs, which is not possible under a customs union.
▸ NI wants to avoid a negative economic impact.
▸ The RI wants to preserve peace in NI.
▸ The EU will stay loyal to the RI and protect the integrity of the single market.
My proposal drops the current backstop clause and gives NI citizens the right to vote to join the RI. By 2020, the UK and EU will
have reached an agreement that either does or does not require a hard border. If it does, an NI referendum is held.
The vote takes the backstop decision away from the EU and gives it to NI citizens, thus respecting UK sovereignty. NI citizens could
vote for Irish unity, but that genie is already out of the bottle. If they vote for a hard border, the problem arises first at the end of 2020.
This proposal could avoid disaster.
AR I dislike the idea that NI citizens get a benefit I don't, namely to vote again on whether they want to rejoin/stay
in the EU. I want that too.
2019 February 8
No press conference for Theresa May in Brussels. All we got were some short strangulated barks of nothing, lasting about a minute, delivered into
a microphone held by Laura Kuenssberg, to make clear, as only she can, that nothing has changed.
"I'm, erm, clear that I'm going to deliver Brexit. I'm going to deliver it on time. That's what I'm going to do for the British
Half the country doesn't want it delivered on time. They don't want it delivered at all. At some point, it's possible she'll work
out she should never have pretended to be Winston Churchill, charged with some sacred mission to deliver Britain to its promised land. The
promised land will be terrible. She knows it, but she can't extend her emotional range to acknowledge it.
2019 February 7
The State of the UK
Just 50 days from now, the UK might be under martial law, experiencing shortages of foods and essential drugs, with a sharp economic downturn, and
national security and public services drastically compromised.
Young people are deeply concerned about a no-deal Brexit. All of the Brexit options will be a disaster for the UK. None of them make
a success of Brexit.
Theresa May, your deal is not the only one available to the UK. Accept the ambitions of the Tusk package. Leverage the fact the UK
is an integral part of the EU.
Push for reforms on issues such as sovereignty, immigration, and economic governance. Accept publicly that to allow a no-deal
departure from the EU by default would be the ultimate dereliction of duty and an unforgivable betrayal of future generations.
No viable alternative so far offers anything as advantageous as the deal the UK has right now with the EU. Restart the Tusk
2019 February 6
The State of the Union
The New York Times
President Trump showed up with a standard list of broad policy aims. He brought up abortion and Syria and a "tremendous onslaught" of migrants
on the southern border.
The spectacle evinced the true state of the union — fractured, fractious, painfully dysfunctional — as the president
called for an end to "ridiculous partisan investigations": "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.
It just doesn't work that way!"
Trump assailed Democratic leaders and repeatedly threatened to declare a national emergency if lawmakers didn't provide billions
for his border wall.
AR Trump said he will meet Kim Jong Un again in Vietnam.
Jewish Review of Books
Avraham Sutzkever was born in Lithuania in 1913. He and his wife and son were in Vilna in 1941 when the Nazis conquered the city and murdered the
baby boy. With horror compounding horror, Sutzkever obsessively wrote poems. From one:
The warm breath of a pile of dung
May become a poem, a thing of beauty
(translated by Benjamin Harshav)
Massimo Pigliucci aims to bring Stoicism to modern life. He says we can develop a moral character and attain peace of mind by taking charge of our
desires, by acting virtuously in the world, and by responding calmly to events we can't control.
Stoics said virtue is all we need. A virtuous person is happy under all circumstances. Everything that happens is part of a providential
order, designed by a divine mind, and virtue consists in living in agreement with that order.
Einstein's God will no doubt appeal more to us than the divine mind. But Einstein's God doesn't care about anyone or anything. For us,
improving our circumstances is better than searching for philosophical consolation.
AR Improving them — but how?
What Is Life?
Life seems to fly in the face of the second law of thermodynamics. Erwin Schrödinger addressed this question.
Optimized information processing is key to the survival of living things. The genetic code is inscribed in DNA as sequences of the
chemical bases A, C, G, and T. The information constructed from this alphabet is mathematically encrypted. To be expressed in an organism, it must
be decoded and translated into the amino acid alphabet used to form proteins.
Living things have elaborate networks of information flow within and between cells. Gene networks control basic housekeeping functions
and such processes as the development of an embryo. Neural networks provide higher-level management. Living organisms use these informational
pathways for regulation and control.
Life = matter + information. The hard question is how chemicals can self-organize into complex systems that store information and process
it using a mathematical code. We may need a new law or organizing principle that couples information to matter and links biology to physics.
Living cells are replete with nanomachines running the business of life. There are molecular motors and rotors and ratchets, honed by
evolution to operate at close to perfect thermodynamic efficiency, playing the margins of the second law to gain a vital advantage.
Our brains contain voltage-gated ion channels that use information about incoming electrical pulses to open and close molecular shutters
in the surfaces of axons, and so let signals flow through the neural circuitry. Working together, these channels give rise to cascades of signalling
and information processing, as in computers.
Perhaps the transition from non-living to living is marked by a transformation in the organization of information. Treating information
as a physical quantity with its own dynamics enables us to formulate laws of life. The whole of life is greater than the sum of its parts.
In quantum mechanics, a system such as an atom evolves according to the Schrödinger equation until a measurement collapses the
wave function. This measurement cannot be defined locally but depends on the overall context.
Quantum biology may take us further.
Ministry of Defence 2019
The Royal Air Force is retiring its Tornado strike aircraft after 40 years of front-line service. Image: RAF Tornado GR4
Poole Bay in winter
2019 Chinese New Year
I Become a Rotarian
Rotary Club of Poole
I was inducted today as a member in the Rotary Club of Poole. My introductory biography:
Andy Ross is a native European, born in Luton in 1949 and raised in Poole. He went to Poole Grammar School, where he won an award to read Physics at
Exeter College in the University of Oxford. He graduated in PPE in 1972 and went on to earn three more degrees, one from the LSE and two more from
Oxford in mathematical logic and scientific philosophy.
In 1977, he joined the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall as an administration trainee, only to find one year there was enough. After a
year teaching English in Japan and a few years teaching maths and physics in London, he moved to Germany in 1987.
From 1987 to 1998, Andy worked as a physics and computer science editor at the academic publisher Springer in Heidelberg. Then from
1999 to 2009, he worked as a developer in the global software company SAP, where he contributed to courses at SAP University and wrote a book on
a major new database development.
Also in 2009, Andy published his contributions to the emerging science of consciousness, where new ideas in artificial intelligence
seem to promise a new age of machines with minds, on which he had spoken at international conferences in Europe and America over ten years.
Then aged 60, he retired from SAP and wrote and self-published several more philosophical books.
In 2013, Andy returned from Germany to Poole and in 2014 joined the Conservatives, where he worked as a parliamentary assistant to
the Poole MP, Sir Robert Syms. He also helped the current Poole Council to get elected in 2015 and has supported them ever since.
His Poole work continues with a new scheme to assist in the training and employment of talented young local people.
Brexit and Ireland
Brexit is at odds with the 1998 Good Friday agreement which sought to erase hard border between the north and south of Ireland. Theresa May's
problem is that she has committed the UK to leaving the EU while respecting the peace deal.
London and Dublin have committed not to reintroduce border checkpoints. May's withdrawal agreement enshrines this in law as an
insurance policy: If the UK left the EU without securing a deal, a backstop arrangement would allow for frictionless trade.
Fanatical Brexiteers were not bothered about the peace process. They saw in the insurance policy a devious mechanism to force
Britain to march in lockstep with EU regulations. To reverse her government's historic Commons defeat, May agreed to replace the backstop.
In Belfast on Tuesday, the prime minister seemed to favour a revised backstop. MPs considering alternative arrangements were meeting
in London as she spoke. All agree that the backstop must be a temporary measure, but no one wants to say so in law.
Northern Ireland voted to remain. Unionism risks defeating itself if it becomes too closely identified with Brexit. Fragmentation
is by no means inevitable, but without a sense of common purpose and community it becomes possible.
Brexiteers Say No
EU top civil servant Martin Selmayr spent 90 minutes with members of the Brexit select committee last night and offered Britain a legal guarantee
that it would not be trapped by the Irish backstop. But the Brexiteer MPs immediately rebuffed his offer.
Britons "never, never, never shall be slaves," as Rule Britannia triumphantly puts it. The underside of nostalgia for an imperial past is a horror
of finding the tables turned. For extreme Brexiteers, leaving the EU takes on the character of a victorious army coming home with its spoils.
Though imperial decline looms large in the imagination of Brexit, "the war" is crucial in structuring English feeling about the EU. The
equation of a European superstate with a project of German domination is part of the map of English conservatism. To such people, the EU is just a
stealthy way for the Germans to complete Hitler's unfinished business.
The English cult of heroic failure, exemplified by the charge of the Light Brigade and the evacuation from Dunkirk, suggests that the
secret libidinal need of Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove, and their colleagues is actually for their noble project to fail in the most
painful way possible, as an immolation on the altar of past glories.
The English seem unable to conceive of a relationship with Europe other than subjection or domination. They will try to regain the
whip hand even if they have to immiserate the country to do it. For them, the principle of equal partnership on which the EU is predicated is
not an option.
A Brutal End To Cool Britannia
Brexit is a retreat. It has profound strategic consequences for the UK and threatens to make it culturally more exclusionary.
British artists who wrote the soundtrack for European popular culture emerged when Britain was opening up to the world after its
enforced postwar austerity and unleashing boundless creativity.
Brexiteers say Britain is leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe. In 2019, Europe is the EU. The UK political establishment has
failed to accommodate itself to that fact.
Brexit will unleash demons. It will wound not only Britain but also Europe.
AR Brexit is foolish and uncool — obviously.
2019 February 4
End The War In Afghanistan
The New York Times
In September 2001, President George W. Bush went to war in Afghanistan: "Our war on terror begins with Al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It
will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
More than 17 years later, the US military is engaged in counterterrorism missions in 80 nations. The price tag will reach about
$6 trillion by the end of FY 2019. The war on terror has claimed an estimated half a million lives around the globe.
When Donald Trump ran for the White House, he promised to rein in overseas military adventurism and focus US resources on core
strategic priorities. That retrenchment can start with Afghanistan: Withdraw NATO forces by the end of 2019.
Conservatives Will Not Be Forgiven
Former cabinet minister Sir Oliver Letwin will support whatever Brexit deal Theresa May comes up with next, because if the UK crashes out of the
EU without a deal and things turn bad, "my party will not be forgiven for many years".
Ministers, civil servants, and heads of government agencies who have responsibility for essential services and commerce are
sweating fear. The people who would have to handle the consequences of Britain crashing out of the EU are very scared indeed.
Conservative prime ministers called the 2016 referendum and presided over the combination of tragedy and farce that has unfolded
since. If Brexit goes horribly wrong, voters are going to blame the Conservatives.
Albion Through The Looking Glass
UK politics has taken a running jump down the rabbit hole.
Having repeatedly insisted that her deal was the only one available, Theresa May caved to Brexiteers. The Brady amendment requires
her to find "alternative arrangements" to replace the backstop.
May's deal would be worse for the UK than remaining in the EU. Ministers attempt to defend her deal as respecting "the will of the
people" whereas holding another vote would be "undemocratic" and drive up support for the far right.
ERG Brexiteers seem to believe that, following a brief period of discomfort, No Deal would carry the UK to the sunlit uplands as a
free sovereign state, with the pain dumped on EU27 shoulders. So Brexiteers run down the clock.
Diehard Remainers believe that May understands the chaos that would result from a disorderly exit and that MPs will agree on a new
poll or a revocation of Article 50. So Remainers run down the clock.
May's strategy has been to scare people into backing her deal. And while the Brady amendment weakens perceptions of her as a
credible negotiating partner, it kicks the can further down the road. So May runs down the clock.
A narrative is growing among Brexiteers that the EU is being unreasonable. Continental partners are sounding ever more impatient.
Anger on both sides of the Channel is hindering agreement.
The UK political system is suffering a dissociative fugue.
AR The last two words are my diagnosis of what Matt called a nervous breakdown.
2019 February 3
Brexit: Queen Has Evacuation Plan
The Sunday Times
The Queen and other senior royals will be evacuated from London in the event of riots triggered by a no-deal Brexit, under secret emergency plan to
rescue the royal family first drafted during the cold war, as the risk rises that things might turn ugly if the UK crashes out of the EU without
AR As numerous rich people emigrate, big overseas investors pull out, and the Queen plans to flee from London, Brexit
Britain will become a prison or quarantine state. Millions of citizens will feel the pain if basics like food and medicines run out, and their
agonies will lead to massive disruption.
Brexit Britain will become ripe for a radical socialist revolution or outlaw declarations of shariah neighbourhoods. The army is
not big enough to maintain law and order in such such circumstances, opening up a serious risk of a meltdown of civil society, anarchy, and a
descent into savagery.
2019 February 2
Russia Suspends INF Treaty
Following the US suspension of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Russia has announced it is suspending it too.
Russian president Vladimir Putin: "The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend
it as well .. We have repeatedly, during a number of years, and constantly raised a question about substantiative talks on the disarmament issue,
notably, on all the aspects. We see, that in the past few years the partners have not supported our initiatives."
AR Putin's dog in the White House has been seduced by Pentagon hawks into making a move that plays into the hands of
Kremlin hawks who want to threaten Europe. NATO must work harder.
The Rise and Fall of British Politics
A hundred years ago, Max Weber gave a lecture on the profession and vocation of politics. He admired the British system and the way its politicians
and officials managed prosperity and stability in a working democracy. Britain was known as the cradle of democracy and decency.
Britain has now gone from being the most stable country in Europe to one of the least, from a country governed by a broad
consensus to a society divided into two camps, and from a government that managed crises well to leaders who cannot even
control their own parties.
The government's botched handling of Brexit was both a failure of political leadership and a failure of planning. Theresa May set
red lines without real thought as to what might be achievable and walked into a deal where she sacrificed too much and failed to think through
the consequences. She tried to play hardball.
The obsession with Brexit has prevented the government from addressing the deep problems that confront the UK. It has no time or
energy to develop serious policies on how new technology impacts traditional jobs, or on the housing crisis for young people or the social
care crisis for older people. For everything but Brexit, the country is on autopilot.
The concept of facts has disappeared. Not only the politicians but also the civil servants have failed. The result is a collapse
of public confidence in the political system.
Max Weber warned about the dangers of professionalizing politics. In Britain that professionalization has reached a new level in
this century. As a result, people now think they are governed by an elite that serves its own interests.
The tragedy of Brexit shows the need for a new kind of politics in Britain.
The Future of the Mind
I think about the fundamental nature of the mind and the nature of the self. If we have artificial general intelligence, I want to know whether it
would be conscious or just computing in the dark.
We need to keep an open mind. If machines turn out to be conscious, we will be learning not just about machine minds but about our
own minds. That could be a humbling experience for humans.
In a relatively short amount of time, we have managed to create interesting and sophisticated artificial intelligences. We already
see tech gurus like Ray Kurzweil and Elon Musk talking about enhancing human intelligence with brain chips.
I see many misunderstandings in current discussions about the nature of the mind, such as the assumption that if we create
sophisticated AI, it will inevitably be conscious. Many of the issues at stake here involve classic philosophical problems that have no easy
solutions. Now that we have an opportunity to possibly sculpt our own minds, I believe that we need to dialogue with these classic philosophical
positions about the nature of the self.
As we use neuroprosthetics or brain chips in parts of the brain that underlie conscious experience in humans, if those chips succeed
and if we don't notice deficits of consciousness, then we have reason to believe that the microchips could underwrite consciousness. In principle,
we could develop a synthetic consciousness.
I like living in that space of humility where we hit an epistemological wall.
AR David Chalmers speculated on replacing brain parts step by step with chips and exploring whether consciousness
faded as a result.
2019 February 1
US Suspends INF Treaty
Secretary of state Mike Pompeo says the United States is suspending the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This pact with Russia has been a
centerpiece of European security since the Cold War.
AR I vividly recall the nightmare of "theater" nuclear weapons in Europe that was ended by the INF treaty. The month the
treaty came into force I moved to Germany to live and work there.
Neural Network Theory
Neural networks implement our most advanced artificial intelligence systems. Yet we have no general theory of how they work.
A neural network is made of neurons connected in various ways. We set its depth by deciding how many layers of neurons it should have.
We set the width of each layer to reflect the number of different features it considers at each level of abstraction.
We also decide how to connect neurons within layers and between layers, and how much weight to give each connection. For image processing,
convolutional neural networks have the same pattern of connections between layers repeated over and over. For natural language processing, recurrent
neural networks connect neurons in non-adjacent layers.
A neural network with only one computational layer, but an unlimited number of neurons with unlimited connections between them, can
perform any task, but is hard to train and computationally intensive. By increasing depth and decreasing width, you can perform the same functions
with exponentially fewer neurons, but the functions set a minimum width for the layers.
For example, imagine a neural network tasked to draw a border around dots of the same color in an array of colored dots. It will fail if
the width of the layers is less than or equal to the number of inputs. Each dot has two coordinates for its position. The neural network then labels
each dot with a color and draws a border around dots of the same color. In this case, you need three or more neurons per layer to perform the task.
All this is not yet a general theory of neural networks.